Biologists Create Cells With 6 DNA Letters, Instead of Just 4

The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) has just announced that it has created cells with an expanded genetic alphabet — an X and a Y added to the regular ACTG of DNA. This is a huge win for the field of synthetic biology. Here’s the Wired story.

“We now have a cell that survives and lives with more information in its genome,” said Floyd Romesberg, the synthetic biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California who led the work.

Having more letters to work with potentially opens the door to a huge range of novel molecules. (A rough analogy: Just think how many crazy new words you could spell with 39 letters instead of the usual 26). With further refinements, synthetic cells might one day be used to create–or evolve–proteins that don’t exist in nature, as well as new sequences of DNA and RNA, any of which could be useful for research, diagnosing disease, or creating new therapies. But that’s still a ways off.”