Researchers at Harvard Medical School have “radically rewritten” the genome of bacteria E. coli. The team has replaced 7 of its 64 codons (3-letter sequences which correspond usually to a single animo acid.) The lab, led by George Church, had already proven it is possible to recode single amino acids, but this project is the first to introduce so many functional changes to a genome.
Why is this such a big step? Church says it demonstrates the kind of radical reengineering that is possible with emerging genetic engineering tools. This kind of experiment would not even have been possible just a few short years ago.
So far, the team has not reassembled the genetic pieces into a functioning E. coli. They believe it will take anywhere from four months to four years until they are able to have a living sample.
This project is also feeding into the research of the Human Genome Project–Write, a project seeking to design and build a human genome.
Farren Isaacs, a synthetic biologist at Yale University, notes that this is “a dramatic departure from what exists in nature…an important step forward for demonstrating the malleability of the genetic code and how entirely new types of biological functions and properties can be extracted from organisms through genomes that have been recoded.”
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