The genetic code breakthrough opens the door to improved materials


Cambridge researchers have re-engineered the genetic code to create a synthetic cell with the ability to counteract anything in nature, opening up the possibility of new materials for everything from plastics to antibiotics.

The knowledge of how to manage and edit DNA has been established at the center of all genetic processes, but so far it has not been possible to change the 3 BN-year old code that instructs DNA cells to form a chain of amino acids that work up molecules.

“This is probably a revolution in biology,” said Jason Chin, project leader at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

“These bacteria can be transformed into renewable and programmable factories that make new molecules with novel features, which could have the advantage of making new drugs like biotechnology and antibiotics for treatment.”

Landmark research, published in the journal Science, Based on the team’s 2019 Groundbreaking Which has created a version in general E. coli Known as the genome – the gut, including all its DNA, is made entirely from lab chemicals.

Scientists have now rewritten the genetic code of the new CN bac1 bacterium that converts not only DNA, but also related cellular apparatus genes into biochemicals. It has created a new organism that grows E. coli But with additional property.

The key to the process is the three biochemical “characters” in DNA – the AN, T, C and G groups. Each of these “codons” tells the cell to add a specific amino acid to the growing protein chain. Since the dawn of life on Earth, all animals have thus stored genetic information.

Jason Chin proposes multiple applications for technology, including new drugs and biodegradable plastics © MRC-LMB

Since there are c4 possible codons and only 20 amino acids occur naturally, there is a lot of redundancy in the genetic code. Scientists at Cambridge reconstructed some of the codons to create different building blocks, leaving them non-existent in nature and allowing the cell to make all the proteins needed for life.

An analogy is that the genetic code of nature is seen as an English language computer keyboard on which certain characters appear more than once. The Cambridge team practically converted a duplicate to the Greek alphabet alpha, converted a surplus BT to beta, and typed in Greek as well as English.

Experiments show that engineered bacterial cells can combine external monomers – molecular building blocks – into fancy proteins and other large molecules known as polymers.

“We want to use these bacteria to discover and create long synthetic polymers that can take on structural shapes and create new types of materials,” China suggested, adding that another application is fancy polymers such as biodegradable plastics.

Delia Jewel and Abhishek Chatterjee of Boston College, two of the top scientists not involved in the Cambridge study, said the use of “unnatural building blocks” would unlock countless new applications, ranging from developing new classes of innovative featured biotherapeutics. ”

One aspect of the technology is that artificial bacteria are vulnerable to infection by viruses, which require natural genetic mechanisms to be reflected in host cells.

“If a drug enters the pores of bacteria used to make certain drugs, it can destroy the entire batch,” Chin explained. “Our mutated bacterial cells can overcome this problem by becoming completely resistant to the virus.”

Chin highlighted the “abundant commercial potential” in the microbial engineering process and added that discussions were held to protect intellectual property.



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