Scientists have engineered worms so that their genetic code produces biological molecules not found in the natural world.
Until now, there have only ever been 20 amino acids found in living organisms. With this breakthrough, scientists have altered DNA, which instructs how amino acids should arrange themselves to make proteins, so that it creates a 21st amino acid.
BBC News reports that researcher Dr. Jason W. Chin of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (where Francis Crick and James Watson first discovered the structure of DNA) calls the technique “potentially transformational.” It means that scientists could have atom-by-atom control in creating designer proteins in living organisms.
The Cambridge University team described their work in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
This work represents an evolution in techniques Dr. Chin developed ten years ago when he was at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif.
Then, he came up with a way for one of the four DNA letters (which are read in groups of three) to be reassigned so that cells would read it as an instruction to create an amino acid that didn’t previously exist in living organisms. But at that time, he demonstrated it in the bacterium E. coli. Now, he has done the same in an animal.
Photo: MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology