A team of scientists has designed a synthetic E. coli genome that could use use a protein-coding scheme different from the one employed by all known life; it requires sixty-two thousand DNA changes. The finished genome would be the most complicated genetic engineering feat thus far. Producing the genome is possible because scientists are able to take advantage of the redundancy of life’s genetic code.
For the study, the team decided to eliminate seven of the microbe’s sixty-four codons and the seven that were taken out could code up to four different unnatural amino acids. Editing the genome one site at a time did not work, so long stretches were used instead; so far 63% of these genes have been tested and no trouble has been detected. One of the problems with this study is safety because the unnatural proteins that the recoded E. coli could produce could be toxic. This study amazes me because genomics fascinated me. The fact that genetic engineering has come so far is crazy to think about, but it makes sense that it is possible because the genetic code is redundant.