Thursday 5 February 2015

Scientists Create 'Genetic Firewall' For New Forms of Life

Scientists to Create `Genetic Firewalls’

According to Harvard and Yale researchers, synthetic amino acids would someday enable scientists in creating `genetic firewalls’ which could prevent GMO crops or animals from escaping in the wild thus causing environmental damage. Recently scientists have come up with genetically engineered bacteria whose survival was based on lab-formulated amino acid and by `locking in’ this synthetic nutritional need, they consider that the bacteria would die quickly if they tend to escape from their carefully controlled environment to enter into the world.

A year later after creating organisms which used genetic code that was different from other living things, this team of scientists achieved another `synthetic biology’ milestone in creating bacteria which cannot survive without a specific manmade chemical and overcome a major hurdle to wider use of genetically modified organisms – GMOs. A report states what one scientist calls a `genetic firewall’ to obtain biocontainment which is a means of insuring that GMOs cannot survive outside a lab or other confined environment. Though two of the lab accomplished the bacteria, there seems to be no fundamental barrier in applying the technique to animals and plants.

Microbes Engineered from Mundane to Exotic

Biologist George Church of Harvard Medical School leading one of the studies, reported that `he thinks that they are moving in that direction’ and if the technique is successful, it could be utilised in microbes engineered for users from mundane to exotic like producing yogurt and cheese, in synthesizing industrial chemicals as well as biofuels, cleaning of toxic waste together with manufacturing of drugs.

For those applications, microbes have already been used and in some cases they contain genes from unrelated organism thereby making them genetically engineered or genetically modified, to overcome oil spills or produce insulin. Widespread usage of such GMOs constrained by concerns could escape into the wide resulting in much damage.

Church’s team in the year 2013 had reported that they had gone ahead of genetic engineering in order to create genomically recoded organisms where recoding means a bit of DNA codes for amino acid – a building block of proteins, which is different from a similar DNA code for every other living thing. Biologists, have revised the genetic spelling book. The altered bacteria which Church along with his team dubbed genomically recoded organisms or GROs is described in a pair of studies in the journal `Nature’

E. Coli Bacteria

The new studies team comprising of Church and a former colleague, Farren Isaacs, developed strains of E. coli bacteria which contained both DNA for manmade amino acid and the need for synthetic amino acids for survival. Since amino acids does not exist in nature, Isaacs presently at Yale University, was of the opinion that the resulting firewall means any GMO escaped from a lab manufacturing facility of agricultural field would not survive.

His team made 49 genetic changes to E. coli in order to make them dependent on the synthetic amino acid and as per his calculations, the odds of a microbe undoing the changes are astronomically high. Church states that by pairing genomic recoding with the firewall, biologist can create escape proof microbes wherein by incorporating novel amino acids could develop new form of drugs as well as polymers.

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