28 Jan 2017

Hacking the genetic alphabet

From This Way Up, 12:45 pm on 28 January 2017
A semisyntetic bacterium

Photo: (Supplied)

The genetic alphabet is made up of 4 letters – A, T, C and G (also known as nucleo-bases). There are 3 billion of these base pairs in our genome.

So what if you could hack the genetic alphabet by adding synthetic letters, and build new synthetic life forms?

That's exactly what a team from the US, France and China have done – they've added two extra 'letters' to E. coli bacteria, and these single-celled organisms have reproduced.

The aim is to create new drugs, help target medical treatments and even clean up oil spills.

Professor Floyd Romesberg of the Scripps Research Institute in California is part of the research team.