This is the first living organism with a completely redesigned genome: we are on the verge of creating a genuinely synthetic life

We have rewritten the genome in a new and radical way. Forgive me for using the "we" when it has actually been a group of scientists from Cambridge University, but after a decade of work humanity has been able to create a synthetic genome for a Escherichia coli which is completely (and revolutionary) functional. Four times bigger and much more complex than anything we had previously done. But the most interesting thing is not that.

The most interesting (most important!) Thing is that the bacteria are alive. With a strange structure (longer and narrower than normal) and a much slower development than those found in nature, but alive. Alive.

The new bricks of life

Life is built on four bases and twenty amino acids. Ever since we delved into the depths of molecular biology, that has always been clear: it didn't matter which organism we looked at, everyone used those twenty amino acids to build all the proteins that exist. It is basically a universal; a universal that we had never come to understand.

Firstly, because it is technically possible to build other amino acids. If these small organic molecules were the basic building blocks of life, why was life limited to just a handful of models? And, secondly, because its coding system is really strange, six times bigger and more complex than theoretically it would be necessary.

Although the synthesis of each amino acid is encoded by a codon (a small set of three nitrogenous bases), the truth is that cells do not need 20 codons as would be logical to think; They need 64. The Cambridge University team wanted to find out if this was redundancy stemming from the vagaries of evolutionary history, and accordingly the same could be done with fewer codons; or if, on the contrary, there was some reason that we still did not understand.

The answer, in the absence of studying its long-term development, seems to be the first. The new one E. coli you only need 61 codons to do the same job. For example, to encode serine, the synthetic genome of our bacteria uses only four codons instead of the usual six. This not only improves our understanding of the processes of cell biology, but allows us to 'release' codons for use in the production of new synthetic amino acids, new proteins, and who knows what else.

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