October 24, 2013 - For the first time, scientists have fundamentally changed the genetic code of an organism, raising the possibility that researchers might be able to retool nature and create potent new forms of proteins to combat disease.
Scientists from Yale and Harvard have recoded the entire genome of an organism and improved a bacterium’s ability to resist viruses, a dramatic demonstration of the potential of rewriting an organism’s genetic code.
“This is the first time the genetic code has been fundamentally changed,” said Farren Isaacs, assistant professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at Yale and co-senior author of the research published October 18 in the journal Science. “Creating an organism with a new genetic code has allowed us to expand the scope of biological function in a number of powerful ways.”
The creation of a genomically recoded organism raises the possibility that researchers might be able to retool nature and create potent new forms of proteins to accomplish a myriad purposes — from combating disease to generating new classes of materials.
The research — headed by Isaacs and co-author George Church of Harvard Medical School — is a product of years of studies in the emerging field of synthetic biology, which seeks to re-design natural biological systems for useful purposes.
In this case, the researchers changed fundamental rules of biology.
Proteins, which are encoded by DNA’s instructional manual and are made up of 20 amino acids, carry out many important functional roles in the cell. Amino acids are encoded by the full set of 64 triplet combinations of the four nucleic acids that comprise the backbone of DNA.