Can We Create New Humans With Bacteria?

In what seems like the stuff of Frankenstein,
scientists are synthesizing artificial life. But why mess with nature, what benefit could
there possibly be? Hello DNA-enthusiasts. Lissette here for Dnews.
Scientists are creating artificial life. What some are doing is freakishly similar to how
Frankenstein assembled his monster with different pieces – but in their cases, instead of using
random body parts and electricity to spring creatures to life – scientists are using empty
cells and chromosomes and infusing them with fungal and bacterial life. And instead of
ending up with one monster, they end up with many tiny creations. Why? Because the payoff
of this artificial life can be huge. Geneticists use various processes to construct
synthetic life. In one example published in Science in 2008, researchers managed to synthesize
a mycoplasma – that’s a type of bacteria. Scientists achieved this by first breaking
down the mycoplasma’s original genome into 101 pieces, which they called “cassettes”.
Then to create a new artificial form of the bacteria, they took 1 to 4 of these cassettes
and inserted them into a host bacteria’s chromosome: either E.Coli or S. cerevisiae
aka brewer’s yeast. The process enabled researchers to create
many different combinations of artificial bacterial life. At the time, this was a huge
landmark achievement, but since then, scientists have taken Franken-life to the next level;
that’s not to say the life they created was more complex. In fact, quite the opposite. Just recently, scientists at the J Craig Venter
Institute were able to synthesize a Mycoplasma bacterium with an incredibly small genome
just 473 genes. To put that number into perspective a human has about 25,000 genes. Now it may seem futile for researchers to
spend so much time creating such a simple organism, but this tiny artificial bacterium
can actually tell us a lot about which genes are considered the building blocks of life.
When you have an organism with a large genome, it’s incredibly difficult to understand
the role of each individual gene. So this small synthesized genome can help scientists
isolate specific genes that they may want to turn on or off to see what happens. If
the cell dies when one particular gene is taken out, then scientists know that gene
is essential for life. What’s more, because unlike human life, these organisms can self
replicate, scientists can have a slew of these organisms to make comparisons. Now, potentially scientists can use these
techniques to manipulate genes – change them in some way – or introduce foreign genes into
an organism. Which is why some are worried that synthesizing artificial life is too much
like playing god. However, some scientists believe that synthetic
bacterial life can have significant benefits. In addition to advancing gene editing techniques
and drug development; it could even help us find new ways to use our own immune system
to fight off disease. But before that happens, there are some questions
that remain to be answered, like whether the chromosomes present in synthesized bacterial
cells contain the entire spectrum of genes… the concern here is that these basic genomes
may not really be representative of the building blocks that make up our own DNA. Still, if we can better understand life’s
building blocks, think of what could be accomplished….we could figure out what is causing alzheimer’s
disease, what feeds our cells, what influences our cognitive abilities…the possibilities
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or news with your friends. What types of gene modifications would you
want to see? Where would you draw the line? What types of gene modifications would you
want to see? Where would you draw the line? Share your thoughts in the comments and remember
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