Scientists create living bacteria with largest 'recoded' synthetic genome

A colony of E. coli bacteria with a novel and entirely synthetic genome is alive and reproducing, slowly but surely, at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England.

According to a report published in Nature on May 15, scientists created the bacteria with a genome that is 4 million molecular base pairs long — four times larger than that of previously produced synthetic genomes. Beyond this increased complexity, the genome has also been fully "recoded": Though all living beings naturally contain combinations of 64 codons, the scientists sought to eliminate redundancies by paring the new genome down to just 61 codons.

The result is a colony of live E. coli with a completely man-made genome, accomplished by swapping out the extraneous codons with new molecular combinations piece-by-piece. The new bacteria are differently shaped and reproduce more slowly than their natural counterparts, but are alive and healthy.

The study of recoding the genome suggests that scientists could one day create synthetic biological compounds engineered to complete hyper-specific tasks in or provide immunity to the human body.

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