.Recently scientists have achieved a feat the like of which has not been seen in billions of years, they have added new letters to the genetic alphabet of a living organism.  What did they do? How did they do it ? Is it too good to be true? All these questions, and more await.

A semi-synthetic organism with an expanded genetic alphabet


Organisms are defined by the information encoded in their genomes, and since the origin of life this information has been encoded using a two-base-pair genetic alphabet (A–T and G–C). In vitro, the alphabet has been expanded to include several unnatural base pairs (UBPs)123. We have developed a class of UBPs formed between nucleotides bearing hydrophobic nucleobases, exemplified by the pair formed between d5SICS and dNaM (d5SICS–dNaM), which is efficiently PCR-amplified1 and transcribed45 in vitro, and whose unique mechanism of replication has been characterized67. However, expansion of an organism’s genetic alphabet presents new and unprecedented challenges: the unnatural nucleoside triphosphates must be available inside the cell; endogenous polymerases must be able to use the unnatural triphosphates to faithfully replicate DNA containing the UBP within the complex cellular milieu; and finally, the UBP must be stable in the presence of pathways that maintain the integrity of DNA. Here we show that an exogenously expressed algal nucleotide triphosphate transporter efficiently imports the triphosphates of both d5SICS and dNaM (d5SICSTP and dNaMTP) into Escherichia coli, and that the endogenous replication machinery uses them to accurately replicate a plasmid containing d5SICS–dNaM. Neither the presence of the unnatural triphosphates nor the replication of the UBP introduces a notable growth burden. Lastly, we find that the UBP is not efficiently excised by DNA repair pathways. Thus, the resulting bacterium is the first organism to propagate stably an expanded genetic alphabet.

We’ll be discussing it all at 8pm BST this Tuesday (27/05/14).

Follow the #microtwjc hashtag on Twitter to join in the discussion.

Full Paper  with extended figures can be found here:

http://apinano.org.br/documentos/A-semi-synthetic-organism-with-an-expanded.pdf [edit- fixed the link- whoops!]

and here:


I hope to see you there !