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Research

Synthetic DNA

Authored By Sangeeta Rakesh Goswami:

On hearing the news about synthetic cell I recalled the 3D version of movie T-Rex. Just imagine we have dinosaurs’ eggs preserved in the laboratory, by studying the DNA pattern of them with the help of computer, we synthesize the similar DNA from chemicals and after re-sequencing them we insert them into modified cell of peacock or a crocodile  and there you make dinosaurs live…. and think if  tigers and leopards which are being extinct in Asia can be reproduced by creating artificial genes without going to Jungle of Africa, or we may produce an apple from a seed of a berry. American biologist Craig Venter and noble award winner scientist Hamilton Smith are at the verge of doing these wonders which, till now, have been seen only in Hollywood movies. They have created the largest synthetic DNA structure by synthesizing and assembling the base pair genome of a tiny bacterium called Mycoplasma mycoides) and synthesized the gene sequences from chemicals as needed and put them together. This synthetic genome was then transplanted into another modified bacterial cell (Mycoplasma capricolum) of a goat germ, and left to its own devices. Soon the recipient cells integrated the synthetic genome and immediately began to carry out the instructions encoded within. It flourished there and man had computer-generated life, the first self-replicating species on the planet with its parent as computer.

This was the first time when on 20th May 2010, Dr. Craig Venter, President and Founder of JCVI and his team made a synthetic cell by starting with genetic data stored in a computer, as science says he has not created life itself, but a new synthetic species. He produced the DNA of an artificial bacterial cell in a test-tube, and then placed it into the already living cell of a different kind of bacteria, transforming it into the new species. To understand this complex and confusing scientific matter lets take an example of test tube baby or IVF technique, they can give birth to a baby by external or internal fertilization of a sperm and an ovum but the sperm and ovum are definitely not artificial. Craig Venter is now a step ahead in biogenetics by this revolutionary achievement. Different species of plants and animals differ from each other by  various arrangements of their genes or chromosomes. In human beings there are 46, chromosomes 23 from each parent. The scientific study of these chromosomes is called genome science. The pattern of genes is so unique, complex and critical that it is too difficult to copy these designs. After 15 years of genetics research and spending $40 million, this team of 46 scientists constructed 1,078 specific cassette of DNA that were 1,080 base pairs long. These cassettes were designed so that the ends of each cassette overlapped each of its neighbors by 80 base pairs perfectly to create a synthetic cell.  To represent them as a plate they marked them through the computer and successfully showed it to the world. They have proved that despite consisting artificial DNA the cell can live for predefined time period, and can generate power and energy. These cassettes were made by the DNA synthesis company, Blue Heron Biotechnology according to JCVI’s instructions. The fact, that Dr Venter has simply re-created the existing life might look realistic today but just a few years ago, it was a nothing but a wild dream.

Will this marvelous invention make human capable to compete with nature? Can these experiments ever create a new life? That’s a million dollar question. Only time shall answer it, but then this stunning achievement does undeniably have the assurance of being extensively used for many positive applications, Lets take a glance:

1.Diseases like night blindness, hemophilia, muscular dystrophy, diabetes, and mental disorders which are believed to  be incurable would be treated with genetic science; Like People with hemophilia (a rare bleeding disorder) are deficient in clotting factors (special proteins) due to their abnormal genes and, as a result, their blood can’t clot properly hence they can’t go for any kind of surgery, but in future the disease can be controlled by replacing the abnormal genes with the synthesized genes. For diabetic patients genes which produce Insulin can be injected, for patient of muscular dystrophy joints can be reactivated.

2.Various types of vaccine development would be accelerated to control and eradicate emerging microbial diseases, like chicken pox is eradicated from all over the world after the invention of the vaccine.

3.By successful genetic technology or bio engineering barrels of petrol and bio diesel would be produced, without waiting for thousands of years of decomposition. Petroleum products can be obtained directly by creating new bacteria which can produce bio fuel and most interestingly the Craig Venter Institute has achieved 600 million dollar contract from Exxon to generate bio fuel from algae.

4.The genetic causes of human disease shall be indentified and it would be easier to understand how the process of evolution works when species are being formed.

5.The database of human genome project may prove as an enormous warehouse to find the roots of tiniest virus to huge banyan tree, good crops would be yield with less water, water can be purified, carbon dioxide can be extracted from the atmosphere, new designer genome can be created, list goes on…

14 years ago in 1996, the team led by Dr. Craig developed synthetic genome and mapped it with yeast genome. Today they have put it into another bacterium and rebooted a live cell. Yep, its a fact. They have achieved it. However, on the other hand, an invention of this magnitude comes coupled with so many questions. Each time man has tried and pushed the boundaries of knowledge, questions have been raised on the legal, ethical and moral implications. The Hiroshima-Nagasaki mayhem of the Second World War is one such example. That apart, the behavior of these species coming out of such inventions shall be a case study.  Remember the tiny box containing deadly viruses in the movie Dashawtaram?  There is no guarantee that these species would behave in the same manner as it does in the labarotary. Who knows if the ones coming out of these DNA’s later pose threat to the very existence of Human Species itself. As they say ‘Science can serve us as a good servant, but it is indeed a bad master’. Come what may but these inventions are definitely going to take us to take the planet to a new era.

President Barack Obama had ordered the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to make artificial DNA a top priority of research and also to consider the benefits of this latest progress as well as the ethical limitations and threats involved. Aware of the ethical and security concern involved Experts say being a very sensitive invention, care must be taken  to use it wisely and ensure prosperity and growth.

Of course there’s a long way to go with this innovation, but for sure this  can become a link between nature and human, a positive outcome for the society and from it we may see new perspective in genetic science. It may provide exceptional opportunity to learn about life and how life works.

“Take strive until breath ends.” – mohamed asik;

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