Scientists first questioned whether life could store information using other chemical groups than A, C, G and T in the 1960s. But it wasn’t until 1989 that Steven Benner, coaxed modified forms of cytosine (C) and guanine (G) into DNA molecules. In test-tube reactions, strands made of these “funny letters”, as Benner calls them, copied themselves and encoded RNA and proteins.
The bases engineered by Romesberg’s team are more alien, bearing little chemical resemblance to the four natural ones. In a 2008 paper, and in follow-up experiments, the group reported efforts to pair chemicals together from a list of 60 candidates and screen the 3,600 resulting combinations. They identified a pair of bases, known as d5SICS and dNaM, that looked promising. In particular, the molecules had to be compatible with the enzymatic machinery that copies and translates DNA.
Do-It-Yourself scientists working in hackerspaces are positioned to make significant contributions with low overhead and little formal training (becoming necessary and valuable apprenticeship sites as the current higher education system deteriorates). The state has yet to heavily clamp down, but, because such freedom threatens the status quo, we can expect intervention to intensify. (...) - by Sebastian A.B., IEET,Jul 17, 2013
Autodesk, a company which develops design software, produced a synthetic Phi-X174 bacteriophage, a virus that infects E. coli bacteria but is totally benign for humans.
The effort was a sort of scientific homage to the work of the J. Craig Venter Institute, which first produced the self-replicating synthetic virus back in 2003, following a more than five-year research effort. In Autodesk’s case, it took a little more than two weeks and about $1,000.
That achievement says a lot about how far the science of synthetic biology has come — and a lot about where Autodesk is going.
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