Associate Professor Floyd E. Romesberg and colleagues from The Scripps Research Institute announced the first incorporation of a man-made DNA base pair into a living organism in the May 7, 2014, edition of the journal Nature. The culmination of decades of research by this group and other researchers promises both great potential good and great potential harm for humans. This is the first man-made organism.
The researchers created two base pair molecules that are similar enough to the normal base pair chemicals that make up DNA to be able to fit into the DNA helix structurally and remain stable over time. The scientists first developed the two molecules known as d5SICS and dNaM that comprised the new base pair. Both molecules were designed to be incorporated seamlessly in the natural development of new DNA. The new base pair was added to the DNA of the bacteria E. coli.
The researchers designed the system with safeguards to prevent the development of a new strain of bacteria that could be hazardous to people or animals. The new man-made E. coli cannot add the man-made base pair without being in a solution of the two base pair chemicals. The discovery of the proper triphosphate transporter to add the two man-made base pair molecules to DNA also prevents development of a new deadly species of bacteria. The new bacteria were found to replicate the new man-made base pair as long as the transporter molecule was available and the supply of base pair solution were maintained.
This discovery could produce new methods to cure disease. A specific base pair that prevents the development of the plaques that are produced in Alzheimer's disease is a possibility. Temporary gene pair insertion for specific disease cures is the basic concept.
The danger of new strains of deadly bacteria that have a man-made base pair is a potential danger. The danger at present is extremely minimal because the original species of man made E. coli are protected by high security and could not live without the attention of an expert. This discovery does produce the possibility of making an active strain of man-made disease that has no known cure and is viable without chemical support.