Lab Creates Life With 'Alien' DNA

New letters added to DNA 'alphabet'

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted May 8, 2014 12:31 AM CDT | Updated May 8, 2014 3:03 AM CDT

(Newser) – It's alive! Scientists say that they have created the first living organism with synthetic DNA unlike that of any life that has ever existed on Earth. Until now, all species used the same DNA code of four letters, but researchers added two new DNA bases labeled X and Y to the existing G, T, C, and A to create bacteria with synthetic DNA, the Guardian explains. They believe that with the expanded "alphabet," organisms could be engineered to create drugs or other products. "What we have now is a living cell that literally stores increased genetic information," says Floyd Romesberg, the chemical biologist who led the 15-year effort to create the "alien" organism. "If you have a language that has a certain number of letters, you want to add letters so you can write more words and tell more stories."

The research, however, raises plenty of safety and ethical issues. "The arrival of this unprecedented 'alien' life form could in time have far-reaching ethical, legal, and regulatory implications," a spokesman for the ETC advocacy group tells the New York Times. But Romesberg says there is no chance of the bacteria spreading because although they can reproduce, they need to be fed the synthetic DNA to survive and would either die or revert to natural DNA if they were in an environment like a human body. "This could never infect something," he says.

  (Shutterstock)
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This is the first time that you have had a living cell manage an alien genetic alphabet. - Steven A. Benner, a researcher
at the Foundation for Applied
Molecular Evolution

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