After 15 years of effort, researchers have effectively produced an active cell that holds two unnatural DNA structure blocks. The development brings us one step nearer to being able to synthesize cells that can yield drugs on request. It also unlocks the door to a future where we might generate life that's unlike anything ever found on Planet Earth. "What we have now is a living cell that literally stores increased genetic information," describes Floyd Romesberg, who has directed the study for the past 15 years. It's also worth underlining that we've influenced natural life to live in harmony with synthetic genetic material, which surely is huge. After all, we've produced synthetic DNA before. But this is a new form of cyborg DNA, and it's possibly much more powerful.
Nature refers to these non-natural bases somewhat generously as "alien." And while researchers surely aren't dealing with aliens from space, they are dealing with something completely external. Life on Earth has always enclosed the same four DNA subunits, also identified as nucleotides, characterized by the letters A, T, C, and G. Now, the options are apparently endless, as researchers have accurately extended that alphabet to take in at least two new, unnatural subunits. We now recognize that the old four-letter DNA model isn't the only way to generate life. Some even think that it's conceivable to generate an organism exclusively out of the foreign nucleotides. These bear little similarity to the four natural ones according to Steven Benner, who founded this type of study back in the 1980s. "I don't think there's any limit," Benner told Nature. "If you go back and rerun evolution for four billion years, you could come up with a different genetic system." So that's pretty mindboggling. Though, it's also extremely hopeful as this kind of science could help us do abundant things like cure cancer. That is, if we don't by accident generate some new form of cancer first. The paper was published in NATURE.
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