Redesigning nature

One does not need to believe in a deity animating the natural world, in order to disturbed by the idea of manufactured organisms.

For the first time, scientists have created an organism with a new genetic code. We are told that recoded bacterium will be converted into:

… a living foundry, capable of biomanufacturing new classes of “exotic” proteins and polymers. These new molecules could lay the foundation for a new generation of materials, nanostructures, therapeutics, and drug delivery vehicles…

Treating DNA as a construction material involves a kind of hubris that glosses over what would seem to be inevitable: that there will be unintended consequences. By definition, we do not know what these will be.

SciTechDaily reports: Scientists from Yale and Harvard have recoded the entire genome of an organism and improved a bacterium’s ability to resist viruses, a dramatic demonstration of the potential of rewriting an organism’s genetic code.

“This is the first time the genetic code has been fundamentally changed,” said Farren Isaacs, assistant professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at Yale and co-senior author of the research published October 18 in the journal Science. “Creating an organism with a new genetic code has allowed us to expand the scope of biological function in a number of powerful ways.”

The creation of a genomically recoded organism raises the possibility that researchers might be able to retool nature and create potent new forms of proteins to accomplish a myriad purposes — from combating disease to generating new classes of materials.

The research — headed by Isaacs and co-author George Church of Harvard Medical School — is a product of years of studies in the emerging field of synthetic biology, which seeks to re-design natural biological systems for useful purposes.

In this case, the researchers changed fundamental rules of biology. [Continue reading…]

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One thought on “Redesigning nature

  1. Phil Sheehan

    You need look no further than antibiotics. (Not even that far, but this is personally relevant at the moment.) Having learnt how to kill infectious bacteria, we set about killing them wholesale. As natural selection might have warned, those killed were the less virulent; the more virulent, those we cannot today effectively cope with, flourished. Our resort now is to kill all possible bacteria, including those beneficial and necessary ones which keep us going. An ad campaign way back — for Alka-Seltzer, perhaps, or Tums — used the tag line, “Don’t trade a headache for an upset stomach.” Bitter irony, that.

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