Nature magazine has reported that, in what is being called a major scientific break-through, researchers at the Scripps Research Institute say they created the first microbes containing artificial DNA. It could not only alter the basic genetic code, the fundamental building blocks of life, but also lead to new drugs and treatments.
“Throughout history, there have been four building blocks in DNA in every organism on earth,” CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Agus said. “… And for the first time, they made two new letters – so four letters to six letters to actually make DNA.” He said this changes “everything that’s possible.”
“There are 20 amino acids in nature made up by these letters,” said Agus. “Now we can go to potentially 150 or 170, so the potentials are limitless. Science is at a new point where things are going to take off.”
While some scientists feel that this could contribute to medical science, others are concerned about the risks and liabilities of tinkering with nature. The New York Times commented that this research is bound to “raise safety concerns and questions about whether humans are playing God. The new paper could intensify calls for greater regulation of the budding field known as synthetic biology, which involves the creation of biological systems intended for specific purposes.”
“The arrival of this unprecedented ‘alien’ life form could in time have far-reaching ethical, legal and regulatory implications,” Jim Thomas of the ETC Group, a Canadian advocacy organization, said in an email. “While synthetic biologists invent new ways to monkey with the fundamentals of life, governments haven’t even been able to cobble together the basics of oversight, assessment or regulation for this surging field.”