Bioethics News

Genome production with artificial nucleotides

We must reconcile what the genome production event means, its possible practical applications and the ethical aspects involved in these new scientific advances.

The first genome has been produced with artificial nucleotides, according to an article published in Nature (509; 385-388,2014). A team from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, led by Floyd Romesberg, have synthesized two new nucleotides, which they have called X and Y, and incorporated them into the genome of the bacteria Escherichia coli, which contains four natural bases: adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine. They have thus managed to produce the first genome with six nucleotides. This is undoubtedly a major scientific advance that has been described by Science as the most outstanding of the year.
The production of the new nucleotides has been achieved after 15 years of research by Romesberg’s team.
The new synthetic DNA does not code any new protein, since it is not able to replicate and perpetuate itself in new generations of Escherichia coli, nor is it able to decode the new genome, to produce new proteins.
Most importantly, these new findings have shown that it is possible to amplify the four nucleotides of natural DNA.
Looking ahead to the future with this new synthetic genome, new proteins could be produced with functions that could potentially be designed beforehand.
While this is unquestionably a major finding, like all new breakthroughs in synthetic biology, we must reconcile what the biological event means, its possible practical applications and the ethical aspects involved in these new scientific advances.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.