Scientists create life with 'alien' DNA
Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 8:55 PM - For the first time, California researchers have created a living cell with two 'foreign' DNA blocks in its genome.
Throughout the history of life on Earth, DNA always been written with four letters -- A, T, C, and G. These are the labels scientists have given to all the sub-units that create life in the known universe -- until now.
Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in California have observed the creation of a bacterium that contains six letters, marking the first time that life has been created using DNA bases that aren't found in nature.
INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGY: Find out how a billboard is making the world a better place
"Life on Earth in all its diversity is encoded by only two pairs of DNA bases, A-T and C-G, and what we’ve made is an organism that stably contains those two plus a third, unnatural pair of bases," said TSRI Associate Professor Floyd E. Romesberg, the study's lead author, in a statement.
"This shows that other solutions to storing information are possible and, of course, takes us closer to an expanded-DNA biology that will have many exciting applications—from new medicines to new kinds of nanotechnology."
Romsberg and his team have been working since the 1990s to find molecule duos that could act as functional DNA bases, laying the groundwork for organisms that never existed before.
Researchers are now tasked with determining how long the bacteria can survive.
In the meantime the team is quick to point out that the 'alien' bacteria poses no threat to the public.
Should it somehow escape the lab, it wouldn't survive for long because it requires synthetic molecules to replicate. It isn't capable of infecting other organisms, either.
Still, the project has drawn some criticism.
Jim Thomas, a spokesperson for the Canadian advocacy organization the ETC Group, told the New York Times that "the arrival of this unprecedented ‘alien' life form could in time have far-reaching ethical, legal, and regulatory implications."
An in-depth write-up on the research can be found online at nature.com.