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DNA Built from Scratch? Scientists Redesigning Life Forms

07-26-2017

Scientists are trying to build DNA from scratch. 

Over the years they have been able to make changes to DNA code, but now they are starting over and building redesigned life forms from scratch. 

Jef Boeke is a researcher at New York University and directs an international team of 11 labs on four different continents to work on rewriting the yeast genome. 

Their goal is to create custom-made DNA codes to be inserted into living cells to change how they function, and provide treatments for diseases. 

The new effort could give scientists the ability to create entirely new organisms. 

The genome is the entire genetic code of a living thing, and learning how to make one from scratch allows creators to make something that is completely new. 

The research is said to open the door for microbes or mammal cells that are better than current ones for pumping out medications in pharmaceutical factories, or new vaccines. 

Some scientists are even looking into the future and see things like trees that will be able to purify water supplies and plants that are able to detect explosives at airports and other places like shopping malls. 

Redesigning human DNA is also in the plans for scientists, but they say it will not be used to create genetically altered people. 

Instead, they say the goal will be to put that DNA into cells that could pump out pharmaceutical proteins, for example, or to engineer stem cells as a safer source of lab-grown tissue and organs for transplanting into patients.

Scientists plan to get guidance from ethicists and the public about their new efforts. 

"It is not only a science project," said Laurie Zoloth, a bioethicist from  Northwestern University. "It is an ethical and moral and theological proposal of significant proportions."

Boeke and others have announced an effort called Genome Project-write or GP-write. Their main goal is to cut the cost of building and testing large genomes, like human ones.

They realize the idea of making a human genome is a sensitive one.

"The notion that we could actually write a human genome is simultaneously thrilling to some and not so thrilling to others," Boeke said. "So we recognize this is going to take a lot of discussion."
 

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