23 August 2016

Scientists "rewiring" bacteria to feed the world

The Blog

In their task to unlock the infinite resources inherent in nature, scientists have achieved "the most far-reaching rewiring yet of a bacterial genome".

This may literally be a tiny task (microscopic, in fact), but the implications of it are enormous. By being able to re-engineer life with great skill and precision, scientists are on the path to eliminating scarcity and possibly reconstructing the world in a more humane and useful form.

According to Nature on 18 August, the breakthrough occurred with E. coli, as "scientists replaced 7 of its 64 genetic codons — sequences that code for amino acids — with others that produce the same components.".

Nature: ‘Radically rewritten’ bacterial genome unveiled

One synthetic biologist commented the breakthrough demonstrates "malleability of the genetic code and how entirely new types of biological functions and properties can be extracted from organisms through genomes that have been recoded". Nature also reported, "They can also be made entirely dependent on synthetic amino acids in their diets, to allay the fear that recoded bacteria could escape from a lab and wreak havoc in the wild."

Synthetic biology is one area in which science could produce a vast alternative supply of renewable energy. The world's leading synthetic biologist J. Craig Venter wrote in Life at the Speed of Light (2013), "the knowledge gained in doing this work would one day undoubtedly lead to a positive outcome for society".

Designer bacteria will be quickly "tailored to deal with pollution or to absorb excess carbon dioxide or even meet future fuel needs", Venter wrote. Overcoming the state of immense poverty affecting much of the world would therefore be dependent on sharing such gifts of science.

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