"This is the first time the genetic code has been fundamentally changed," said
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
In this case, the researchers changed fundamental rules of biology.
Proteins, which are encoded by DNA's instructional manual and are made up of 20 amino acids, carry out many important functional roles in the cell. Amino acids are encoded by the full set of 64 triplet combinations of the four nucleic acids that comprise the backbone of DNA. These triplets (sets of three nucleotides) are called codons and are the genetic alphabet of life.
In the new study, the researchers working with E. coli swapped a codon and eliminated its natural stop sign that terminates protein production. The new genome enabled the bacteria to resist viral infection by limiting production of natural proteins used by viruses to infect cells. Isaacs -- working with
The work now sets the stage to convert the recoded bacterium 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, Isaacs said.
"Since the genetic code is universal, it raises the prospect of recoding genomes of other organisms," Isaacs said. "This has tremendous implications in the biotechnology industry and could open entirely new avenues of research and applications."
Other participating researchers from
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