Synthetic biology is an area of science that involves rebuilding organisms by making changes in their DNA. The process includes re-engineering the genetic code to form new abilities. Scientists wrap long stretches of DNA together. Afterward, inserting them in the organism’s genetic code. These synthetic components of DNA are either present in the organism already or there is an addition of new molecules. Synthetic biology combines DNA synthesis with increased genomic knowledge. It allows researchers to quickly manufacture and assemble cataloged DNA sequences for new genomes.
Research in the field of Synthetic Biology and DNA
Genetic engineering for environmental purposes, such as bioremediation, became common in the 1970s and 1980s. There was a discovery of a bacterium that can digest petroleum components. After this, scientists in the United States synthesized a viral genome for the first time in 2002.
Two scientists revealed in December 2004 that they had created a new “multiplex” DNA synthesis technique that would ultimately reduce the cost of DNA synthesis to 20,000 base pairs per dollar. The gene of Mycoplasma genitalium is the first synthetic bacterial genome to get complete in 2008. It is a bacterium that can cause urinary and genital area infections in humans. There was a revelation of the world’s first synthetic life type, based on an existing bacterium that causes mastitis in goats, in 2010 by scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI).
In 2019, UK scientists develops an artificial version of “Sync61” of the stomach bug E. coli that is based entirely on synthetic DNA. Syn61 is the first entire genome that involves synthesis from scratch, with 4 million genetic letters.
‘HACHIMOJI’ – a new DNA
Scientists recently discovered that a new form of DNA, when molded into its elegant double-helix structure, had properties that could sustain life. The researchers added four more molecules to the synthetic DNA to make the final product. It has an eight-letter code rather than a four-letter code. This had a much greater capacity to store information like the number of letters increased. The new DNA has the name “hachimoji” given by scientists. It means “eight letters” in Japanese, and is based on previous research from various groups.
Code of Hachimoji
The natural DNA is based on four molecules that pair up with each other to form the genetic code of life on Earth. Adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C) are the four forms of nitrogen bases (C). The order of these bases defines the DNA’s instructions or genetic code. A and T binds while G binds with C. The new DNA composes these natural codes as well as four synthetically made bases. These are P, B, Z, and S. They are based on the same kind of nitrogenous molecules as existing ones.
Hundreds of combinations of natural and synthetic molecules were made. And, several experiments were also conducted to find out if Hachimoji has properties to support life or not. The result shows that the Hachimoji DNA is also predictable like the natural DNA. The researchers were able to calculate how this synthetic DNA is going to behave in different temperatures.
Scientists also create synthetic enzymes that are proteins that expedite a reaction. Another result shows that Hachimoji can transfer the stored information to its sister molecule RNA. It is only then that the proteins get instructions to carry out functions in an organism.
This discovery can be used to bind liver cancer cells or maybe used to speed up chemical reactions.
Some Applications of Synthetic DNA
Other than providing us with knowledge about the mechanism of living things, there are many societal benefits too. These include novel drugs or vaccines, greener chemicals, and biofuels. Scientists are trying to create new forms of bacteria that can destroy tumors. The US Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has worked with biological computers and other military scientists are attempting to scratch protein and gene products into a targeted vaccine.
Synthetic genomics techniques have also been used to reconstruct viruses such as the poliovirus and the 1918 influenza pandemic virus. As well as to introduce genome-wide changes for the development of vaccine candidates from the poliovirus and influenza viruses. Transplantable cells with synthetic gene circuits or signaling pathways can be used to create prosthetic devices.
Concerns regarding the New Technology
With the advancement in technology, there has been an increasing concern over potential threats. While some parties suggest that current regulatory frameworks are still appropriate for recombinant DNA technology. The development of synthetic technology must continue and grow under this framework. Others demand ecological risk research associated with synthetic organisms. Some argue that synthetic DNA should not be available for commercial use. And, some say that there is a requirement for a new institution that will govern the genomics sector.
Therefore, synthetic DNA is key to developing engineering biology methods. The various demonstrations such as a complete synthesis of a whole yeast, a full bacterial genome, and subsequent synthesis of a minimal bacterial genome illustrate the usage of synthetic DNA and the ability to exist genes to achieve a wide-ranging synthetic biological effort.