All life on Earth is created using the same instruction manual, whether you’re a human, otter or bacteria we all share the same DNA letters G, T, C and A.
Well until now. Scientists have created the first organism that contains two extra letters: X and Y.
By creating an organism with an expanded genetic code, this paves the way for a new generation of lab-grown life forms that are synthetically built based on our rules, not on the rules set out by natural evolution.
The breakthrough was made by scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in the US and involved taking a common E. coli bacteria and then adding two new base letters.
This isn’t the first time we’ve edited the genetic code of a bacteria, however one of the biggest problems was seeing our creation survive as it divided.
In the past scientists would add the two new letters and then watch as they slowly disappeared the more the bacteria divided.
TSRI Professor Floyd Romesberg explains saying: “Your genome isn’t just stable for a day, your genome has to be stable for the scale of your lifetime. If the semisynthetic organism is going to really be an organism, it has to be able to stably maintain that information.”
To accomplish this they did something rather remarkable. They edited the bacteria’s genetic code to recognise X and Y as a part of its original makeup.
Whereas before it was seen as an intruder and slowly eradicated the team were able to re-write its DNA to see the two new bases and then not only embrace them but actually include them in the replication process.
So what does the next generation of semisynthetic life forms mean for us and humanity?
Well for starters you can rest easy about us altering our own DNA, instead this breakthrough could be hugely significant in the world of medicine.
At present the scientists are only able to store information using X and Y, the next step will be turning that information into actual instructions.
Cool Science Photos Of The Decade:
2014NASA, ESA, H. Teplitz and M. Rafelski (IPAC/Caltech), A. Koekemoer (STScI), R. Windhorst (Arizona State University), and Z. Levay (STScI)
2012Hadoram Shirihai/Tubenoses project
2011Wikimedia Commons: Wtop.com
2010NIAID (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)
2009Sung Hoon Kang, Joanna Aizenberg and Boaz Pokroy; Harvard University
2007Gloria Kwon/NIKON Small World
2005Charles Krebs/NIKON Small World