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First DNA Molecule Constructed from Mostly Synthetic Components

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 6 years ago | from the add-another-helix dept.

Biotech 188

ScienceDaily is reporting that Japanese chemists have created the world's first DNA molecule comprised of almost entirely artificial components. The breakthrough could lead to advances in both medicine and technology, possibly utilizing the massive storage capacity of DNA. "In the new study, Masahiko Inouye and colleagues point out that scientists have tried for years to develop artificial versions of DNA in order to extend its amazing information storage capabilities. As the genetic blueprint of all life forms, DNA uses the same set of four basic building blocks, known as bases, to code for a variety of proteins used in cell functioning and development. Until now, scientists have only been able to craft DNA molecules with one or a few artificial parts, including certain bases."

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Whoopee! (1, Interesting)

clonan (64380) | more than 6 years ago | (#24085717)

So in other words we can synthesize a variety of sugars.

We can then take these sugars and string them together.

Just for reference, custom oligo DNA chains have been available for purchase for the last 20 years. This is what makes PCR (DNA fingerprinting for example) work.

I call "pointless" on this demonstration.

Re:Whoopee! (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24085899)

RTFA, they created a new stable DNA molecule with four bases that are each similar to but different from the bases found in natural DNA.

Re:Whoopee! (1, Informative)

clonan (64380) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086075)

Yes, it's been done for 20 years.

Using alternate nucleotidtes is a usefull way of creating random mutations during PCR. I have personally used these in some lab experiments in college.

It IS true that there is no record of anyone creating a stretch of DNA with exclusivly alternate bases. This is not because of a technical limitation but because there is no practicle use for doing it.

Re:Whoopee! (1)

Otter (3800) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086327)

Given the journal it's in, there must be something notable about this work. I had the same reaction as you, though.

Re:Whoopee! (0, Troll)

clonan (64380) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086477)

I am willing to bet that it is a "Letter to the Journal" or some other non peer reviewed section.

Re:Whoopee! (2, Funny)

JustOK (667959) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086831)

geez, sounds like you woke up on the wrong side of the helix.

Re:Whoopee! (1)

Otter (3800) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086959)

The paper is here [acs.org] , and is certainly a reviewed article. You seem so worked up about this, I hesitate to note that there's a second DNA synthesis paper in the same issue...

I'm going read the in-press papers about the total synthesis of snow flea antifreeze protein instead, though.

Re:Whoopee! (0, Troll)

clonan (64380) | more than 6 years ago | (#24087113)

Thanks for the link...I will read it thoughly in the next day or two.

As for me being "worked up." I am annoyed that this sort of "research" is published when it doen't add anything to general knowledge. It may turn out that novel bases are usefull. However this paper is not since they are just demonstrating that you can make DNA with alternate bases...something that is known for a long time.

Re:Whoopee! (5, Interesting)

pesho (843750) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086681)

Dude, _read_ _the_ _fucking_ _article_! Their bases are not the stuff you can buy from the store. Look at the structures, they are not even going to pair with the regular bases. Their iG:iC pair uses DDA (donor, donor, acceptor) sequence of hydrogen bonds instead of ADD in the normal G:C pairs. I'll be surprised if you used similar 'alternate nucleotides' for the 'past 20 years' to 'create random mutations'. There is a practical use for these and is not for making 'random mutations'. Having alternative to DNA and RNA is one of the prerequisites in creating synthetic organisms with different genetics and biochemistry. Imagine starting the the evolution from scratch, or creating microbes for industry that can't exchange genetic information with the rest of the living organisms on earth.

Re:Whoopee! (2, Interesting)

clonan (64380) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086939)

I work in pharmaceuticals. I am constantly shocked by what random chemicals someone has in stock just sitting there.

Just because you can't buy them from a drug store doesn't mean it isn't readily availible (for the right price)

Re:Whoopee! (1)

rwATR (1317735) | more than 6 years ago | (#24085905)

PCR only replicates already existing pieces of DNA. This appears to be able to create new base pairs with whatever sequence one would want.

Better way to do an old thing? (1)

nathan.fulton (1160807) | more than 6 years ago | (#24085933)

I'm not a biologist, but I've gotten the impression that they've developed a better way to do something that's been done, which makes implementations in biotech more pragmatic TFA: "...This resulted in unusually stable, double-stranded structures resembling natural DNA.... The unique chemistry of these structures and their high stability offer unprecedented possibilities for developing new biotech materials and applications, the researchers say."

Re:Whoopee! (4, Informative)

crmarvin42 (652893) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086161)

It's obvious that you didn't read the article and that for some reason those with mod points haven't either (as evidenced by the 3 previous responses to your post being modded down despite attempting to correct your mistake).

They created a DNA like molecule with out using the four molecules cytosine, guanine, adenine, and thymine. Now, I don't really see any immediately obvious applications for this new molecule, but it proves to me that it is possible for life to have evolved a similar information storing mechanism distinct from the one used by all life on earth and that is interesting.

Re:Whoopee! (4, Interesting)

clonan (64380) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086263)

Ummm...that alternate nucleotides were possible was proven 30 years ago. Synthetic DNA was only created 20 years ago.

While the 4 bases used do have some advantages in sysntesis, stability and other effects, tehre is no compelling reason that requiers thoes 4 bases.

I have no idea how this got published...The reason a similar article hadn't been published earlier is because every reputable scientist in the field agrees with you:

Now, I don't really see any immediately obvious applications for this new molecule

This article did nothing to expand our knowledge. It didn't prove anything. All it showed is that the machine they ALREADY had in the lab could do everything the manual they got with it said it could.

BTW, I don't see any responses modded down like you suggested...

Re:Whoopee! (1)

crmarvin42 (652893) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086451)

Despite my not doing a lot of genetics work myself, I did know that synthetic NA's had been developed and used, but I was under the impression that they were normally used as a substitution for a single NA for reasons of causing/preventing mutations. I got the impression from the article that these new NA pairs wouldn't work with normal DNA, but I may have misinterpreted what the article said.

The initial post made it sound as though they were talking about creating a normal DNA strand from scratch which has been done before. I'd imagine that finding the correct pairs for a synthetic DNA-like molecule would be a little more difficult than that.

The 3 posts I was referring to were the AC post you responded to (1 point at the time), the posts by rwATR & nathan.fulton which both had scores of 0 at the time. Apparently other's with mod points have come through and changed the scores in the intervening time.

Re:Whoopee! (1)

clonan (64380) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086569)

Hmm, I can't see any negative mod points on any of thoes posts and new modding doesn't change the history.

I bet thoes people have poor Karma and so they aren't given free points when they post.

As for designing complementary nucleotides, yes that is slightly more difficult....However I had the capability of doing it 10 years ago with a piece of chemistry modeling software that requiered for every freshman at my school. After you have complementary chimicals you could probably just order them from a catalogue and even if you couldn't you could synthesiae them yourself rather easily.

Re:Whoopee! (2, Insightful)

protobion (870000) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086751)

Some pretty interesting things :

First : C-Nucleosides instead of N-Nucleosides as all natural nucleosides are...

Second : Non-coding synthetic nucleotides allowing various binding interactions etc. Essentially we can create novel regulatory elements.

Unfortunately, typical Slashdot lack of imagination and narrowmindedness when it comes to anything other than computers or politics seems to have overridden this topic.

Re:Whoopee! (3, Interesting)

clonan (64380) | more than 6 years ago | (#24087051)

First: C-Nucleosides are nothing new and are readily availible in catalogues

Second: Life already uses a wide variety of non-coding nucleotides typically created through post synthesis modification. One example of post synthesis modification used to control coding is methylation.

Unfortunetly, Slashdot lack of imagination and narrowmindedness when it comes to anything has lead to an automatic acceptance of everything as "neat." This is an example of wasted research money that did not creat new information and has not lead to any new insights into nature.

Re:Whoopee! (4, Informative)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086221)

You seem to conflate several rather mundane processes without having a clue what they are or how they relate to the story at hand. Also FYI DNA is not just "sugars"

PCR, the polymerase chain reaction, takes a quantity of DNA and "multiplies it" so you have more to work with Everything in your jar is replicated blindly.

DNA fingerprinting chops up a mixture of DNA strands at specific base sequences, then the resultant mulch is labelled (radioactively or otherwise) at other specific base pair sequences, and the whole mess is sorted by fragment size to produce a unique fingerprint. Again, this is a blind process.

DNA sequencing allows one to obtain the sequence of bases in a DNA strand by a process tangentally related to DNA fingerprinting, but far more time consuming and finnicky as you want to make sure you're sequencing the right stuff.

Actually building a DNA single strand, with a specific sequence of perhaps six nucleotides, from raw feedstocks, was until fairly recently a nightmarish process involving umpteen protective groups and studying it caused me to swear off organic chemistry for good. Fortunately there are much simpler automated processes available but of course that wouldn't have made for a very challenging university module.

However, those oh-so-efficient processes are optimised for oligonucleotide chains of your common or garden five NA bases. This team have created a DNA double-helix using entirely synthetic bases which is a pretty novel thing IMO.

Re:Whoopee! (3, Interesting)

clonan (64380) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086443)

Actually, I made a living for a number of years doing research with PCR.

I sited DNA fingerprinting because it is a process that most people have heard of that uses PCR. Notice I said it was an example. My post was intended for those people WITHOUT advanced degrees in Biology/Chemistry. If you would like to talk about annealing temperatures, extension times, point mutations, hair-pin turns or anything else let me know.

You are also right, DNA is not just sugar. It also includes the base and the phosphate group. However my snide remark is still valid. You are not talking about unusual chemistry. I am willing to bet good money that every component was readily available already.

This team did nothing novel. As you pointed out, there are automated processes to manufacture short chain nucleotide chains. These machines are already capable of including single point mutations of non-typical nucleotides. All they did is fill up the machine with there off the shelf chemicals and hit go. They then re-ran the program but in reverse. When they mixed the two batches together....DNA molecules!

Re:Whoopee! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24086985)

All that research and you "sited" something?

Re:Whoopee! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24087087)

I sited DNA fingerprinting...

All they did is fill up the machine with there off the shelf chemicals...

My post was intended for those people WITHOUT basic reading skills.

For the record, I only grammar-nazi trolls.

Re:Whoopee! (1)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086685)

Novel but useless. The most important feature of DNA that makes it different from polyethylen is replication.

People can tweak DNA polymerase to work with non-standard bases [bioedonline.org] . And that is more interesting.

Re:Whoopee! (1)

nospam007 (722110) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086235)

Create an egg with Mostly Synthetic Components...

It's mostly harmless.

Re:Whoopee! (1)

Immostlyharmless (1311531) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086393)

Too late, I'm here already. I came from 100% natural egg. ;-)

Re:Whoopee! (1)

dmcq (809030) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086293)

It will probably be possible to use something like this to direct the making of alternative type protein like molecules where the structure can be easily predetermined - i.e. make nanomachines easily.

Re:Whoopee! (1)

Koiu Lpoi (632570) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086359)

I'm more interested in the name of the researcher. They're apparently from Japan, but "Inouye" is almost, but not quite a Japanese name. Looks like they got it wrong. "Inouye" can't exist in the Japanese language (they have fewer phonemes than English). Perhaps they meant "Inoue" or "Inoe" (with a bar over the o, slashdot isn't unicode).

Re:Whoopee! (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086479)

I sure hope (s)he's from a non-English-speaking country... getting through grade school would be hard with a name like "annoy".

Re:Whoopee! (1)

hldn (1085833) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086873)

you should go around telling everyone with the name inouye that it doesnt exist.

or spend 2 minutes looking it up

the last name inouye

Japanese: alternate Romanized spelling of Inoue. The -ye spelling represents a pronunciation no longer used in modern Japanese.

Re:Whoopee! (1)

Koiu Lpoi (632570) | more than 6 years ago | (#24087173)

So, anyone who uses it either has no idea what they're talking about or is a pretentious fuck. Doesn't sound like they're worth my time either way, hmm? Especially considering we're talking about romanization systems, of which there are standards. But I guess it's OK to use archaic names if you want to be edgy.

So, in other words, there is nobody with the last name "Inouye" who is native Japanese. So I won't have to tell too many people.

Re:Whoopee! (1)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086649)

That is why this is more interesting:

Enzymes stitch together non-natural DNA [bioedonline.org] :

By systematically tinkering with the structure of DNA polymerase at one or two specific locations, researchers can make enzymes that work with artificial bases. But this technique, called 'rational design', is a tedious and unpredictable process.

etc.

But does a DNA HD use less power than an SSD? (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24085721)

Tom's Hardware readers want to know.

New record for base pairs (1, Insightful)

heroine (1220) | more than 6 years ago | (#24085783)

Well it's been done for many decades. The trick is making the sequence longer & automating the process to not require an army of grad students.

Re:New record for base pairs (5, Funny)

andre3001 (976515) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086051)

As a grad student, I am concerned. When processes like these are automated, people like me are left without direction. How else am I going to fritter away my youth on work for which I'll get neither credit nor compensation?

Re:New record for base pairs (4, Funny)

SQLGuru (980662) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086177)

Simple, buy a Wii/XBox 360/Playstation 3 like the undergrads.

Layne

Re:New record for base pairs (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086269)

You will have top be innovative, and work on studies like this [theonion.com]

For info storage? Nice idea in theory but... (2, Insightful)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 6 years ago | (#24085789)

.. DNA decomposes from bactierial , chemical and radiative action so can't just be left on its own locked away for years.

DNA is read slowly by biological means which is hardly easy to interface to digital systems.

DNA is read sequentially , its not random access at the base level making it useless for most types of database.

Current technologies could in theory already be pushed to have greater storage density than DNA - eg transistors made from a few atoms.

So other than an interesting intellectual exercise , whats the point?

Re:For info storage? Nice idea in theory but... (1)

Ed Avis (5917) | more than 6 years ago | (#24085989)

One property DNA has that transistors don't is that with some enzymes and spare base pairs it can copy itself. You can dissolve lots of copies in a liquid and spray it about to have redundancy. Whether this is useful, I don't know. I doubt that pouring a test tube of synthetic DNA into the ocean and letting it reproduce itself and diffuse around the globe will replace Bittorrent any time soon.

Re:For info storage? Nice idea in theory but... (2, Interesting)

mikael (484) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086105)

There was article some time where the scientists demonstrated how it was possible to solve the "Travelling salesman problem". Different strands of DNA were constructed to represent the different route segments that were possible and replicated. These were all mixed up together in a container and stirred together. As they were mixed together different strands would join up.

The solution to the problem was the shortest strand that had the starting point and ending point, along with each and every route destination.

Re:For info storage? Nice idea in theory but... (2, Informative)

FunkyELF (609131) | more than 6 years ago | (#24087365)

I remember that. I didn't RTFA but what you're talking about is DNA computing, not DNA storage. The traveling salesman problem worked with a very, very small graph. I don't remember if the graph was even weighted. Anyway, when you analyze what was going on, they basically did a brute force search which wasn't even guaranteed to find the solution (except for statistics). They basically randomized a ton of DNA which they hoped represented every permutation of the cities the salesman could travel. Then they used a bunch of filters to find the shortest one that started and ended where they wanted.

So, the method they used was brute force, just massively parallel, but with no guarantee that all permutations were created. It didn't reduce its complexity from NP.

Re:For info storage? Nice idea in theory but... (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 6 years ago | (#24085999)

my DNA is raid-1 billion replicated.

Re:For info storage? Nice idea in theory but... (2, Informative)

backslashdot (95548) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086041)

What "it's sequential at the base level" have to do with anything? Even in a database once you get to the address of a specifc blob of data .. you need to read off a sequence of characters right.

Unless you mean that to access a specifc data region the DNA must be read sequentially? So if a cell needs to make a protein from say the middle of a chromosome it has to unravel and read through the entire chromosome?

I don't think so.

When a protein is needed, a transcription factor is used that attaches to a specific promoter region address which contains the code for the RNA (protein recipe) it needs to synthesize. The transcription factor has ways of zeroing in on the right location.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcription_factor [wikipedia.org]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Promoter_site [wikipedia.org]

Re:For info storage? Nice idea in theory but... (1)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086941)

So are you going to have an infinite number of transcription factors then for every possible piece of data stored in the DNA?

I don't think so.

DNA is a effectively a hard wired database where the required data/protein recipes must exist for the cell to work. The cell doesn't just make up new proteins as it goes along unlike a database which can store any combination of data anywhere in any given amount (up the maximum) at any time and said data can be updated or deleted at any given time.

Try doing that with DNA.

Re:For info storage? Nice idea in theory but... (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086145)

Perhaps computer interfaces may be a bit of a stretch, but the potential for custom DNA sequences, whether it's to make new drugs or do nanoengineering for things like solar panels or battery components, is tremendous.

While I doubt it would work with artificial bases, since I doubt you could readily get DNA made of artificial bases to reproduce inside an organism one of my favorite potential uses for "ordinary" custom DNA sequences is to eradicate invasive species. You need to make "greedy" (parasitic genes that mess with the normal inheritance process, changing the odds of being passed down from 50% to nearly 100%), recessive, lethal alleles and introduce them into a wild population. According to simulations, they'd steadily spread until the entire population had them, wherein the entire population would be unable to breed and would die off. While I initially heard this proposed to eliminate certain kinds of malaria-carrying mosquitoes, it sounds like a perfect solution to, for example, get rid of non-native rats and snakes from islands where they're killing off native species.

Who cares? (5, Funny)

eln (21727) | more than 6 years ago | (#24085831)

This is nothing new...I created a DNA molecule out of entirely synthetic components for my 5th grade science fair project. Mine was made out of colorful wooden balls glued to wooden sticks. Theirs appears to be sugar-based, which would probably attract ants, so mine is obviously superior.

Re:Who cares? (1)

kiehlster (844523) | more than 6 years ago | (#24085903)

Yes, but these synthetic DNA molecules will "could lead to advances in both medicine and technology, possibly utilizing the massive storage capacity of DNA." I can't really vouch for the massive storage capacity of wooden DNA, granted storage capacity per-molecule would be much greater for wooden DNA. Given an infinite universe, that's pretty impressive.

Re:Who cares? (1)

Hairy Heron (1296923) | more than 6 years ago | (#24085939)

Oh come on, mod. This was clearly a joke.

Mod parent funny, not troll. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24085977)

Why so dour, mod person?
I laughed out loud at that one, myself.

Re:Who cares? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24086457)

But was it synthetic wood? I think not...

Can they use silcon in place of Carbon? (1)

gr8_phk (621180) | more than 6 years ago | (#24085891)

You know, because it'd be nice to know if life can be built on a different set of elements.

Re:Can they use silicon in place of Carbon? (3, Informative)

clonan (64380) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086013)

They can...but you wouldn't want to.

Silicon also has 4 bond sites which you need for the complex chemistry of life. You can make identical molecules except switch silicone for carbon.

But life will almost certainly NOT do this elsewhere.

Silicon chemistry takes more energy than carbon chemistry.

As an example I will point to earth. Silicone is hundreds of times more common than carbon in the crust yet life did not evolve to use Silicone, it instead used the less common carbon.

Re:Can they use silicon in place of Carbon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24086419)

God just prefers carbon over silicon.

More evidence that God made everything a 6000 years ago!

Re:Can they use silicon in place of Carbon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24086487)

Actually, God made carbon that way for this purpose, and silicon for microprocessors.

Re:Can they use silicon in place of Carbon? (3, Informative)

Relic of the Future (118669) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086561)

I don't normally nitpick, but you made the same confounding error multiple times in one post: silicon and silicone are two different things. One is a chemical element, the other is a group of polymers which contain the element.

Re:Can they use silicon in place of Carbon? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24086759)

I would like to point out that carbon has properties not reproducible in silicon, such as the fact that carbon dioxide is a gas at temperatures commonly encountered on Earth, while silicon dioxide is a solid. This alone seems to preclude any possibility of silicon being a direct replacement for carbon, at least in these parts.

The silicon atom is also substantially larger and some structures that happily form based on carbon will likely be distorted or stressed in the case of a silicon analogue.

Re:Can they use silicon in place of Carbon? (1)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086787)

Yeah, imaging breathing out sand (Mommy-2 style)

Re:Can they use silicon in place of Carbon? (1)

Migraineman (632203) | more than 6 years ago | (#24087107)

Under Earth-like environmental conditions, carbon has several advantages. But what happens when you move away from Earth's environment? Suppose that the ambient temperature on LV-426 was substantially higher than on Earth. Put it somewhere favorable to silicon, but disadvantageous to carbon. Are you absolutely certain that carbon would still rule the roost?

Honestly, I tire of people who are convinced that earth-life is the only possible solution. It works here. Fine. Change the environmental conditions such that carbon compounds fall apart readily, or water as a solvent doesn't exist in all three phases. Silicon instead of carbon. Methane or ammonia instead of water. Won't happen on Earth, but it might somewhere else.

Re:Can they use silicon in place of Carbon? (3, Interesting)

clonan (64380) | more than 6 years ago | (#24087185)

Yes...I am still convinced that carbon would rule the roost.

In order for silicon to even remotely compete, Silicon dioxide would have to be gaseous. At the several hundred degree higher temp, large and complex molecules become unstable.

In addition silicon is a larger atom which creates a greater limit on structures than carbon.

Carbon would still be used with Ammonia. Using methane absolutely requires carbon (methane being a hydrocarbon).

There is no known condition in which silicon would be preferable while still allowing for large complex molecules.

I get annoyed when people ignore basic physics and chemistry for their own pet beliefs.

Re:Can they use silicon in place of Carbon? (1)

clonan (64380) | more than 6 years ago | (#24087227)

However on further though let me add that while I don't think life would EVER spontaneously arise using silicon, it would be theoretically possible to artificially create a silicon based life.

Re:Can they use silicon in place of Carbon? (1)

HungSoLow (809760) | more than 6 years ago | (#24087329)

I wonder if on a planet that has no Carbon and an over-abundance of Silicon (obviously an exteme case - but not impossible) if life could evolve using silicon. I mean, when you really come down to it, life could be Germanium, Tin or Lead based by the same arguments, it's just "easier" for Carbon-based to start up. Does anything stop other elements from forming the basis of life? Say Boron (assuming a Boron rich environment void of Carbon and Silicon)?

Re:Can they use silicon in place of Carbon? (1)

clonan (64380) | more than 6 years ago | (#24087543)

Life really isn't possible for anything but Carbon or Silicon. The reason I can say that is the number of bonds. 4 bonds allow for extensive and complex networks which complex chemistry requiers. Boron, tin, lead etc can't do this.

We essentially live on a planet with an over abundence of silicon and a virtual absence of carbon. Silicon is so much more plentiful than carbon it is almost silly. On proto-earth the only availible carbon source was the atmosphere and in a water world, like earth, air is a lousy place to get your food.

Silicon COULD be used in life but is very unlikley to arrise spontaneously. We could design life to use silicon in theory.

Entertaining Theological question... (3, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 6 years ago | (#24085893)

We have a sequence of a human genome and are likely to produce more in the future.
We can, albeit presently with difficulty, construct DNA sequences from artificial materials.
We can, in principle, produce viable eggs by nucleus transfer from one egg to another.

If a "human" embryo is produced from synthesized DNA and by nuclear transfer into an egg from artificial or animal sources, the resulting organism will be structurally equivalent to human, without any physical connection to the human race.

Does this organism have a soul? Is it subject to original sin?


Angels and heads of pins aside; this is pretty cool. There is, though, a slightly unpleasant possible outcome of being able to synthesize DNA sequences. Certain viral pathogens, smallpox comes to mind, are very, very hard to get ones hands on. Samples are tightly controlled and generally not allowed out to play. This is a Good Thing. Genetic sequences, however, are public knowledge. In principle, with sufficient expertise in DNA synthesis(and some protein coating wizardry) one could just "compile" some smallpox from source and then go have a smallpox party with the nearest population center. Happy times.

Re:Entertaining Theological question... (2, Interesting)

the_brobdingnagian (917699) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086065)

Does this organism have a soul?

Do you (or anyone else) have a soul? Why would a "synthetic" human be any different?

Re:Entertaining Theological question... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086591)

Well, I don't believe in souls or, for that matter, any metaphysical entities; so the question is moot for me. However, I find theology interesting as a theoretical exercise and I would be quite interested to see what a theologian, or even a suitably pious layman, would say on the subject.

I'm an atheist and a materialist, so such an organism would be little more than a curiosity; but would be considered human because structurally so. It just struck me as an interesting example of something where technology would be able to raise a genuinely new theological question, which is of recreational interest to me.

Re:Entertaining Theological question... (1)

CODiNE (27417) | more than 6 years ago | (#24087211)

If one is a Jehovahs Witness or Seventh Day Adventist then a "soul" is simply a living, breathing creature such as birds,fish insects and mammals. In the first 2 chapters of genesis "and on the fourth day God created fish", etc... They are all referred to as "living souls". Numbers 6:6 states that touching a "dead soul" makes a person "unclean". In other words a corpse. The bible agrees with your materialist views of physical life, but many bibles have been written to change words to match preconceived religious beliefs and use phrases like "dead person", "dead body" and "corpse" to hide their original meaning. In fact soul literally means "breather".

So to answer the question, to some who believe in the bible an artificial person is just as human as we are. Now if we knew what Adams original DNA looked like and duplicated THAT then we'd theoretically have a human with superior immune system and a different ruleset for apoptosis.

Re:Entertaining Theological question... (1)

Schadrach (1042952) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086775)

Because it was never "conceived", per se? It's a question at the theological considerations: If we manufacture something that is biochemically and genetically human, but which is composed entirely of artificially created parts (as in no actual human genetic material is used in the process whatsoever, and a non-human (synthetic or animal) egg is used to host the nucleus), does the result (being literally some chemicals in a test tube) have a soul? This is explicitly the sort of question that get the fundamentalist evangelicals attempting to have things banned for "moral" reasons -- because it asks questions they don't want to answer.

Re:Entertaining Theological question... (1)

Blublu (647618) | more than 6 years ago | (#24087189)

I expect the answer is that yes, he/she/it would have a soul, because when God created humans, he also gave them the ability to create life (once they figure out how). Either that, or ZOMG KILL THE INFIDELS. Of course the question is meaningless because there is no reason to believe there is a god in the first place and anyway, do humans have a soul? How do you know that? I personally have certain doubts that there is a soul even in humans, but if we can make something with a brain with enough density, it'd be self-aware, and conscious, or soul if you want to call it that. So the answer is yes, unless the new being was brain-damaged, it would have a "soul".

Re:Entertaining Theological question... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24086199)

Just wait for Smallpox GPL.

Re:Entertaining Theological question... (4, Funny)

ComaVN (325750) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086313)

Hey, inflammation wants to be free!

Re:Entertaining Theological question... (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086609)

Does this organism have a soul? Is it subject to original sin?

More importantly, does this organism have the same rights as other human beings?

The sane amongst us would probably say "of course it does, it is a living, breathing, thinking human". Unfortunatly the sane aren't always in control. Living, breathing humans have been enslaved, tortured, and murdured throughout our history, often without consequences when one can simply claim "they aren't really human, they're black or jewish or a terrorist...".

Re:Entertaining Theological question... (1)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086745)

If we teach 2 other non-standard pairs of bases to code the same 20 aminoacids and be capable to provide an organism with these nonstandard nucleotides and if we will modify DNA polymerase so it will only replicate those non-standard bases-based DNAs, then we will be protected from ALL viruses.

Re:Entertaining Theological question... (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 6 years ago | (#24087361)

If we teach 2 other non-standard pairs of bases to code the same 20 aminoacids and be capable to provide an organism with these nonstandard nucleotides and if we will modify DNA polymerase so it will only replicate those non-standard bases-based DNAs, then we will be protected from ALL viruses.

You know, that's an awful lot of work. Easier just to boot up a linux distro.

Re:Entertaining Theological question... (1)

Digital Vomit (891734) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086973)

If a "human" embryo is produced from synthesized DNA and by nuclear transfer into an egg from artificial or animal sources, the resulting organism will be structurally equivalent to human, without any physical connection to the human race. Does this organism have a soul? Is it subject to original sin?

I don't see why an artificially created human embryo would not eventually develop a soul (i.e. thoughts, feelings, identity, etc.) like a natural human embryo. If the structure is the same, I don't see why the outcome would be any different.

As for being subject to "original sin" -- errant theology aside -- it would still be a person, so, it would still have a human nature, I would imagine.

I think these two questions would be better if they were turned around: why wouldn't an artificially created human embryo develop unto a sapient being (assuming the artificial construction was within certain fault tolerances)? Why wouldn't an artificially created human embryo develop into an adult exhibiting the same human nature as the rest of us?

Re:Entertaining Theological question... (2, Insightful)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 6 years ago | (#24087477)

If it is capable of breeding true with other humans, then it's human. If it's not, it's not. Pretty simple.

Re:Entertaining Theological question... (1)

tomblag (1060876) | more than 6 years ago | (#24087493)

I for one welcome our new Cylon Overlords!

Not new (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24085921)

My synthetic pocket pussy has been collecting DNA samples for years.

Re:Not new (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24086631)

Maybe it's time to wash your pussy.

DNA-based computers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24085941)

Is Transformers music playing in anyone else's head right now?

Do these new bases code for amino acids? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24085959)

Can they be translated into proteins by the cells that live in the real world?

If they don't, this seems an intellectual exercise and not to seeming revolution they are promising.

And they talk about these creating "unusually stable, double-stranded structures." I suspect the evolutionary balancing act has lead to stuctures that are stable, but not too stable that they can't be unzipped, and translated into proteins via the mechanisms of the cell.

the SAME building blocks?! (3, Informative)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086005)

I know it's nitpick-y, but

As the genetic blueprint of all life forms, DNA uses the same set of four basic building blocks, known as bases, to code for a variety of proteins used in cell functioning and development.

This isn't quite true. DNA is the genetic blueprint for all cellular lifeforms. There are RNA viruses, there are prions... neither of which use DNA as their genetic blueprints.

And to get really nitpick-y, it's incorrect to say that DNA uses the same set of four building blocks. It would be "more" correct to say that DNA uses a set of four building blocks. I mean, it'd be rather ridiculous if every lifeform on the planet had to share just four molecules.

But, it's not as if we should expect an article geared towards an ignorant public to be completely accurate... the gist was captured.

Anyway, I think I just managed to pedantically get "the Mondays" out of my system... sorry for the rant.

Re:the SAME building blocks?! (1)

Orleron (835910) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086111)

Not only that, but there's evidence that suggests other codes were used in past attempts for the earth to create life. Those lifeforms that used the other codes have died off leaving only our type of life.

Re:the SAME building blocks?! (3, Informative)

ComaVN (325750) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086521)

Viruses and prions are not, generally, considered to be alive.

Re:the SAME building blocks?! (1)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086683)

That's still a topic of debate, wrt viruses especially.

Ha! Take that RIAA/MPAA! (1)

PHPfanboy (841183) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086029)

Now I can store pirated music in my DNA!

Re:Ha! Take that RIAA/MPAA! (4, Funny)

grahamd0 (1129971) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086191)

Now I can store pirated music in my DNA!

I don't know if I'd like that. You start surfing some porn sites and the RIAA slaps you with intent to distribute.

New Pickup Line (1)

msu320 (1084789) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086601)

Now I can store pirated music in my DNA!

"Care to sample my music collection?"

Mostly synthetic (1)

Verdatum (1257828) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086071)

It's "mostly synthetic" DNA? Does that also mean it is mostly dead and therefore slightly alive? If so, I know a guy named Max who can do some miraculous things with it.

Stress on base pairs (4, Informative)

Orleron (835910) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086083)

I don't think the summary stresses the base pairs enough. We have been able to synthesize DNA from the regular naturally occurring base pairs for a long time. This article is special because it talks about synthesizing DNA from unnatural base pairs, which several labs are working on, albeit with bacteria not chemical synthesis.

I also detect that some folks may not understand the implications. Right now the given combination of natural DNA base pairs can only code for the 20 base amino acids used in nature. If we could create a DNA system that can code for other types of amino acids (in addition to or instead of), we would be able to make some very interesting proteins that would do gods know what, but would make for some great possibilities.

Re:Stress on base pairs (2, Interesting)

comm2k (961394) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086273)

The current 4 bases allow 64 combinations (codons). Yet they're only 20 (actually 1 or 2 more) amino acids coded by them (- stop). Introducing new bases does not overcome this limit - the limit is in the tRNAs which are complementary to more than 1 codon. You would also have to create tRNAs complementary to your new codons and for that to be efficient you would need compatible enzymes loading these tRNAs with your new amino acid.
The latter part is actually far more work then creating this type of 'artificial' DNA I think.

Not Synthetic, Artificial (3, Informative)

burris (122191) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086099)

This isn't a case of synthesizing familiar, natural DNA from scratch. That's been done for years and this research was done on commercial equipment for doing so. These researchers created a new type of DNA using four bases that are each similar to but distinct from the four bases that are found in natural DNA. A new chemistry basically. The article suggests that previous attempts had been unstable but this one is not. This could lead to advances like creating DNA molecules with more bases, to increase the density of storage, or find chemistries that are particularly amenable to manipulation, or who knows what.

Doesn't anyone RTFA? (5, Informative)

mck9 (713554) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086143)

No, this isn't ordinary DNA produced by synthetic means. If that were the case, it would be of little interest to anyone but a few specialists.

What's new is that THIS synthetic DNA uses a different set of bases. not the usual C, G, T, and A.

Presumably, therefore, it cannot usefully be read or replicated by the usual cellular machinery. That incompatibility makes it, arguably, less of a biohazard (or maybe more of a biohazard, since it might bind to the cellular machinery and gum up the works).

The potential applications for this synthetic DNA apparently involve using it as a structural component of nanostructures. Theoretically it could be used for high-density data storage, though it's hard to imagine how the information could be either written or read.

Leeloo? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24086491)

First steps toward constructing the 5th element, perhaps?

The mystery of "life" (4, Interesting)

ortholattice (175065) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086655)

There is a long, long way to go before a self-reproducing organism results from a random combination of DNA, artificial or not.

It is possible for a very simple "lifeform" with only 54 base pairs [ucr.edu] to be self-reproducing, but only if it is parasitic. Such "lifeforms" exploit the complex and sophisticated DNA machinery of the host to accomplish reproduction.

I found it amazing that the simplest known lifeform that can reproduce independently is the Mycoplasma genitalium bacteria [wikipedia.org] , with 582970 base pairs! This probably isn't the simplest one that can theoretically exist - it is hard to imagine the right combination out of 4^582970 appearing at random in the pre-life organic soup - but whatever simpler thing existed before it is a mystery, as well as why none of the simpler forms still exist today (if that is the case).

This has been bugging me for some time, and as far as I can tell no one has a good answer.

Re:The mystery of "life" (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 6 years ago | (#24087471)

but whatever simpler thing existed before it is a mystery,

If you have the time and inclination, you might want to wander through the first four of these lectures [rockefeller.edu] . They talk about using simple RNA chemistries as tools for coming with with potential progenitors to Life As We Know It. Quite interesting and of course rather speculative.

still cool, but a bad summary. (3, Informative)

Bowling Moses (591924) | more than 6 years ago | (#24086675)

IIRC the first chemical synthesis of a gene was by Khoran in 1970. What these guys have done is replace the four bases of DNA with different ones, and with a different attachment to the ribose group (having a carbon-carbon triple bond instead of normal DNA's carbon-nitrogen single bond), and have demonstrated double-stranded helix formation. The phosphate deoxyribose backbone is still present in it's usual way. Other groups have modified the backbone of DNA; probably the most famous is peptide-nucleic acid where the backbone is like that of a protein backbone. Also non-standard bases have been introduced by many groups and have been used for years. The paper in the Journal of the American Chemical Society also references these modifications plus some others, notably work simultaneously replacing bases and modifying the sugar groups in the backbone. Still replacing all four bases, changing the base-ribose linkage, and having the resulting product form right-handed duplexes, all of that at the same time, that's pretty cool.

hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24086867)

"possibly utilizing the massive storage capacity of DNA"

They could use this technology to create an even BIGGER Blue-Ray Disc!

So, how long before .... (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 6 years ago | (#24087293)

.... I get my own copy of Leeloo [imdb.com] ?

Applications for Artificial DNA (2, Informative)

structural_biologist (1122693) | more than 6 years ago | (#24087319)

As other readers have noticed, the authors of this study have used existing DNA synthesis technology to incorporate non-natural bases into DNA. While it is impressive that the authors could design bases with the correct geometry to support a DNA-like double helix, the chemistry is not too novel. However, the ability to customize DNA-like polymers has a few interesting applications.

First, all of the sci-fi applications involving artificial life are not really feasible because one would have to design a huge number of new enzymes to recognize these artificial bases. As the field of enzyme design is still in its infancy, I do not see this happening anytime soon.

The real applications come from non-biological uses of DNA. As previous commenter have noted, biotechnologists are investigating the use of DNA as a tool for computation/data storage. Doi et al. have designed their DNA-like scaffold such that other researchers could relatively easily construct new nucleotide pairs in order to expand the number of nucleotides used in the helix. This ability to expand the number of nucleotides could aid researchers in performing calculations using DNA.

Another application involves DNA nanostructures (such as the "DNA origami" designed by Paul Rothemund [caltech.edu] ). DNA is useful for creating nanostructures because it can be easily programmed for self-assembly into arbitrary structures (such as happy faces or long six-helical nanotubes). However, biology is full of enzymes that can degrade DNA, limiting its usefulness. As the authors of this study note, these artificial DNA molecules are resistant to degradation by natural enzymes. Furthermore, it may be possible to alter the mechanical properties of the artificial DNA by tailoring the strength of base-pairing and stacking of the non-natural bases. This could give researchers much greater control over the properties of their DNA nanostructures. One disadvantage of these artificial DNA molecules over natural DNA molecules would be the fact that it is much easier to produce long molecules of natural DNA (the non-enzymatic DNA synthesis technologies used to create the artificial DNA have difficulty creating long [>100bp] strands of DNA). Another caveat is that the authors of the study did not provide a crystal structure of the DNA so we don't yet know its true 3D structure (i.e. whether it forms a helix with the same geometry as regular DNA, although a different geometry could also be interesting).

A real significant advance for DNA nanostructures would be an artificial DNA-like polymer that incorporates a non-natural sugar-phosphate backbone. DNA nanostructures are not stable outside of water which limits their possible applications, in part because water molecules help to stabilize the structure of the sugar-phosphate backbone. Designing a DNA nanostructure that retains its properties outside of water would be a huge boon to the field.

whatcouldpossiblygowrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24087353)

Even by CowBoyNeal-Natalie Portman-hot grits-frist post standards the whatcoulpossiblygowrong meme is lame as hell. It's attached to absolutely every damn article that is even remotely associated with biology. I'm sick of it. So now every opportunity I get I'll apply that retarded insult to all articles on everything associated with computers and programming. Some wonk over at company X is porting Gentoo to microsoft Access? OMFG! What if s/he/it fucks up and the the the compoooter like becomes self aware and unleashes viruses through the intertubes and n00bs getting pwnd in world of warcraft are actually launching ICBMs???!!!one!!!!!!1111!!!pi!!!!!!? Won't those damn compooter programmers ever learn that they're dealing with forces beyond their control? Better flag that whatcouldpossiblygowrong.

Second Duped On Slashdot: +1, Informative (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24087425)

  Does slashdot have a dupe checker?

Obviously NO.

Thanks.

Regards,
K. Trout

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