Artificial DNA Used to Give Life for First Time
Like something straight out of a science fiction movie, scientists have created a completely human-made DNA sequence, and used it to give life to an organism.
According to Discovery.com, scientists from the J. Craig Venter Institute placed an artificial genome into a host cell that lacked DNA. The cell sprang to life, as it began to grow and reproduce.
“This is the first synthetic cell that’s been made,” Venter told Discovery. “We call it synthetic because the cell is totally derived from a synthetic chromosome, made with four bottles of chemicals on a chemical synthesizer, starting with information in a computer.”
Synthetic biology makes this all possible. This field of science focuses on reprogramming the DNA of entire organisms like bacteria and viruses.
Venter and his team synthesized an entire Mycoplasma genome, and then injected the DNA sequence into a Mycoplasma bacterium that had its own DNA removed. They added hundreds of thousands of additional base pairs, making the sequence more than 1 million base pairs long. Base pairs are what genomes are usually measured by. In comparison, a human genome has more than 3 billion base pairs.
The bacteria grew and reproduced thanks to the artificial DNA, but this, as it stands, isn’t useful to humans. However, in years to come scientists could write DNA sequences that can lead to cheaper drugs, vaccines and biofuel.
Frances Arnold, a synthetic biologist at the California Institute of Technology, told Discovery that this accomplishment is a testament to scientists’s ability to manipulate long sections of DNA. But before any application for biofuel and the like can happen, scientists need to find the specific genetic code.
“We can write anything we want,” Arnold told Discovery. “The problem is that we don’t know what to write.”