Semi-synthetic bacteria make ‘alien’ protein

Semi-synthetic bacteria
Bacteria express a green fluorescent protein that’s produced from DNA instructions with unnatural chemical “letters” added. (Scripps Research Institute Photo / Bill Klosses)

Researchers have reached a new milestone in their effort to expand the genetic alphabet of life by designing a strain of E. coli bacteria that creates proteins unlike anything cells can produce naturally.

The technique, detailed in a paper published today in the journal Nature, could lead to the production of totally new types of protein-based medicines, plastics and biofuels.

It could also stretch the definition of natural vs. artificial life.

“I would not call this a new lifeform — but it’s the closest thing anyone has ever made,” study leader Floyd Romesberg, a biochemist at the Scripps Research Institute, said in a news release.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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