For the first time, scientists have created a living cell with DNA containing more than just the familiar A, T, C, and G units.
Hailed as a breakthrough by other scientists, the work is a step towards the synthesis of cells able to churn out drugs and other useful molecules. It also raises the possibility that cells could one day be engineered without any of the four DNA bases used by all organisms on Earth.
“What we have now is a living cell that literally stores increased genetic information,” says Floyd Romesberg, a chemical biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, who led the 15-year effort.
So instead of just using the GATTACA alphabet, scientists may eventually gain the use of an alphabet containing dozens or even hundreds or thousands of different letters. Potentially powerful stuff.