Animal’s genetic code redesigned
Researchers say they have created the first ever animal with artificial information in its genetic code.
The worms - from the species Caenorhabditis elegans - are 1mm long, with just a thousand cells in their transparent bodies.
What makes the newly created animals different is that their genetic code has been extended to create biological molecules not known in the natural world.
Just 20 amino acids are used in natural living organisms, assembled in different combinations to make the tens of thousands of different proteins needed to sustain life.
But Sebastian Greiss and Jason Chin have re-engineered the nematode worm’s gene-reading machinery to include a 21st amino acid, not found in nature.
Dr Chin of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (where Francis Crick and James Watson first cracked the structure of DNA) describes the technique as “potentially transformational”: designer proteins could be created that are entirely under the researchers’ control.
So far it is just a proof of principle - the artificial protein that is produced in every cell of the nematode worm’s tiny body contains a fluorescent dye that glows cherry red under ultraviolet light. If the genetic trick failed, there would be no glow.
But Dr Chin says any artificial amino acid could be chosen to produce specific new properties. Dr de Bono suggests the approach could now be used to introduce into organisms designer proteins that could be controlled by light.
Goes without saying that, if more complex experiments prove successful, the implications of this are huge. And you know someone, somewhere, is eventually going to try it on humans.