E. coli microbes
Humanity is closer to creating semi-synthetic life forms. Image: TheUSBport.

A group of researchers from China, France, and the United States has managed to successfully insert genetic code into E. coli microbes, which essentially means that they are working to ‘engineer’ these life forms.

Genetic modification could, in the future, condition some life forms to behave in a certain way.

For example, this research could lead to breakthroughs in biology that could help eradicate diseases in the coming decades.

In the final report, scientists describe the experiment as a step towards creating “organisms with wholly unnatural attributes and traits not found elsewhere in nature.”

The cells they produced “lay the foundation for achieving the central goal of synthetic biology: The creation of new life forms and functions.”

The scientists added two DNA bases to the bacteria’s genetic makeup

E. coli microorganisms initially have four natural DNA bases, A, G, C, and T. These letters pair with each other in the DNA chain. The researchers created another matched base comprised of the letters X and Y, and inserted them surgically onto the bacteria’s DNA structure.

The modified genetic material allows E. coli to create a unique protein that, scientists say, could have future uses in the field of medicine.

The experiment took place at California’s Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla. The lead scientists are Yorke Zhang, Brian M. Lamb, Aaron W. Feldman, Anne Xiaozhou Zhou, and Floyd E. Romesberg.

The experiment also included researcher Thomas Lavergne, from the National Centre for Scientific Research at Grenoble (France). Also, Lingjun Li from the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the Normal University in Henan (China).

Genetic engineering was science fiction less than a decade ago

This type of research is what fueled movies like the Jurassic Park series, scientists that can manipulate the genetic code to their advantage and clone animals that are currently extinct.

In the Jurassic Park movies, they could also put individual characteristics into the new animals. For example, they made them all females so there would be no breeding between dinosaurs.

Genetic manipulation has been a topic of scientific debate since the discovery of the human genome. Many argue that advancements in this field could lead to a complete eradication of disease and congenital disabilities in humans. Many others oppose these notions.

In any case, it is likely that genetic modification will continue to expand, but it will do so slowly, as the technology required to do so is still scarce.

Source: National Academy of Sciences