Jan 28, 2017 I Brett Tingley

Scientists Create Synthetic Organism with 6-Letter DNA Code

Surely everyone has at least heard of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, right? It seems like the science fiction trope of synthetic lifeforms rebelling against their human creators should be pretty well established in our cultural consciousness by now. Some scientists just want to see the world burn, I suppose. That could be the only reason a team of scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) took it upon themselves to hijack the very building blocks of organic life and create a semi-synthetic organism unlike any living on Earth. I mean, why else would you create a completely unknown tree of life that could potentially unknown consequences for the fate of life on our planet?

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Professor Floyd Romesberg (right) and Yorke Zhang led the project. When the world is overrun by genetically-engineered six-base superbugs, blame these two nerds.

Because science, that’s why. All living things on Earth carry DNA, the genetic code that is responsible for the growth and function of all life. Every organism's’ DNA is composed of the same four nucleotides: cytosine, guanine, thymine, and adenine. That’s it - those four nitrogen-based molecules are responsible for all life on Earth. The TSRI scientists decided to see just what kind of abomination they could create if they used CRISPR/Cas9 techniques to add two new nucleotides (X and Y) to the mix, creating a version of E. coli bacteria with an unnatural six-base DNA chain.

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E. coli is a common subject of genetic study due to its simple genetic makeup and fast rate of growth.

The result? A semisynthetic organism (SSO) that blends synthetic and organic components and functions much like any other lifeform, but more so:

With the virtually unrestricted ability to maintain increased information, the optimized SSO now provides a suitable platform for efforts to retrieve the increased information and create organisms with wholly unnatural attributes and traits not found elsewhere in nature.

The researchers claim this creepy abomination is capable of “virtually unrestricted storage of increased information,” meaning it could technically be engineered to look or behave in any way its creators desire. According to TSRI researcher Yorke Zhang, this semi-synthetic microbe is just the beginning:

This study lays the foundation for what we want to do going forward.

Which is what exactly? Unleash monstrous plagues of superior organisms who look down (or up) upon us lowly four-based-DNA lifeforms with disdain and loathing? You know what, it’s gonna be one of those days - if you need me, I’ll be in my doomsday bunker learning how to fletch arrows.

Some things just aren’t meant to be tampered with.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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