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E coli with synthetic DNA

Scientists successfully create first living organism with synthetic DNA

By the earnest effort of scientists, the world’s first ever living organism with completely synthetic DNA has been created. The ambitious project finally proved that life can exist in certain controlled conditions. This can be used to make drugs such as insulin for diabetes and other medical compounds for multiple sclerosis, heart attacks and eye diseases.

Since the inception of heredity and evolution, life on earth shares a common code of resemblance that’s called DNA. The four nucleic acid letters of adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine– or A, C, G and T can be strung into 64 combinations of 3 letters called codons.

Nearly, in all life forms from jellyfish to humans, there are 64 codons. But many of them do the same job. In total, 20 amino acids which are natural are synthesised by 61 codons, which can be binded together like a necklace. Three more codons are in effect stop signs. They inform the cell when the protein is done like a full stop mark marking the ending of a sentence.

The Laboratory of Molecular Biology of Medical Research Council in Cambridge, read and redesigned the DNA of the bacterium E.Coli. Experts were in a fix whether it would be possible or not. The Cambridge team worked hard to redesign the E.coli genome by going through its DNA while working on a computer. Scientists made a whopping 18000 edits to the DNA, stitched the whole DNA together and exchanged it with the original DNA of the bacteria. The result was a microbe with a completely synthetic and radically altered DNA code known as SYN61. The bug was showing unusual characteristics such as a little longer than normal while showing slower growth.

This edited variation SYN61 isn’t quite a red alert for its ancestors as the cells were a touch longer and were virus resistant. Now, it can be thought that how it would act as a resistance to a virus. The answer is simple, as their DNA is different, invading viruses will struggle to spread inside them making them virus resistant.

Efforts were made earlier too like the bug Mycoplasma Mycoides but it has smaller genome than E Coli and was also not redesigned. But as “records are made to be broken” and in that sense, other researchers are persistently working on bacterial genomes with more coding changes.

Finally, scientists have taken the field of synthetic genomes to a new level by building the largest ever synthetic genome to date. It is a landmark step of completely novel life form. The invention of this remarkable life will be a milestone in the history of heredity and evolution.

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DNA molecule depiction

Scientists create dynamic “living” object which has its own metabolism

Scientists at Cornell University have artificially synthesised a material which possesses three main traits of life namely metabolism, organisation and self-assembly. Such a task was possible as the researchers used the DNA so as to prepare machines which had the properties of living beings. The report has been published in the Science Robotics.

The technique which they used is named as DASH which stands for “DNA-based Assembly and Synthesis of Hierarchical” objects. The scientists prepared a DNA material which has the metabolism ability i.e the specific set of chemical processes which converts the food to the energy which is needed for sustaining life.

The three most important purposes of metabolism are generating energy from food for different cellular activities, converting food to the basic elements for proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates and removing several wastes such as nitrogenous wastes. Metabolic reactions are classified to two types, catabolic and anabolic.

However, scientists did not intend to create a living entity. They wanted to build a machine which has the functions of living beings. Professor Dan Luo, Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering mentioned that they are not preparing a different life but materials which are more lifelike than ever seen.

For any organism which is alive, there must be ways to coordinate the changes which take place continuously. Activities such as generation of new cells, removing the worn out ones, biodegradation are the key processes which are needed to maintain the form.

The most innovative aspect here is that the process of metabolism has been programmed and coded inside the DNA. It contains instructions for autonomous regeneration which then allows the object to grow on its own. Scientists have described metabolism in the paper as a method where the elements which make life are manufactured, synthesized, broken down and decomposed independently in a hierarchical way using biological processes.

With the help of the DASH method, the engineers manufactured a material which can independently emerge from its building blocks and arrange on its own. With the help of a 55 nucleotide base sequence, the molecules of DNA were multiplied several thousand times, and the DNA chains were created which were a few millimeters in size. After that, it was injected in a microfluidic device which provided energy in liquid flow and the building blocks for biosynthesis were made.

DNA prepared its new strands where the front end and the tail end were maintained in a suitable manner. Though the designs are primitive, this is a new possibility of making dynamic objects from biomolecules. Scientists are now working on ways so that the object can identify different stimuli and also seek for food when needed.