By Ryan F. Mandelbaum
Scientists created a variant of the E. coli bacteria with an entirely synthetic genome, according to a new paper.
Building and replacing the large entire genome yet was just one goal of the team from the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. They hoped that the resulting bacteria would use a reduced number of possible DNA base pair combinations in order to produce the 20 amino acids. In the future, the now-obsolete sequences might be used to produce never-before-seen amino acids and proteins.
The thrust of the paper wasn’t just to rebuild a bacteria’s genetic code, but to simplify redundancies in order to have more genetic code to work with to create custom genomes. Genetic code is written in four letters: A, T, C, and G, which represent the molecules adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine. These nucleotides can arrange into 64 three-letter “codons,” most of which correspond to an amino acid, the building blocks of the proteins that allow life to function. All but two of the amino acids are encoded by multiple synonymous codons. The researchers wanted to see if they could rewrite the E. coli bacteria’s genome with fewer codons, like rewriting the dictionary but representing all hard “k” sounds with only the letter k, instead of sometimes using c or q as the English language does.
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