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Researchers create 'alien' with artificial genetic code

Posting in Science

U.S. researchers claim to have created an organism which contains artificial genetic building blocks, which would herald a significant jump in manipulating DNA.

As reported by the New York Times, scientists in California claim to have created bacteria with an expanded genetic code -- containing six letters instead of four.

The standard DNA alphabet contains molecules which bind together to create the DNA double helix. Naturally, these molecules contain four letters: A, T, C and G. However, the research team was able to add an artificial pair of X and Y strands to a strain of E. Coli. The bacteria appears to be reproducing normally and passing on the artificial strains to the next generation.

Conducted at the Scripps Research Institute, if the experiments are continued further, this could herald the development of antibiotics and vaccines which could not be produced using cells with natural genetic code. Although this is far in to the future, the researchers are already refining the technique to make this use practical.

Floyd Romesberg, who led the study, says that these experiments will allow scientists to "write more words and tell more stories." However, spokesperson for Canadian advocacy organization ETC Group believes the "arrival of this unprecedented 'alien' life form could in time have far-reaching ethical, legal, and regulatory implications."

The study has been published in the journal Nature.

Read on: The New York Times

Image credit: Flickr

— By on May 8, 2014, 2:59 AM PST

Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure