'Artificial DNA' : a breakthrough in life formation

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Washington, Dec 19 (UNI) It has been 50 years since scientists first created DNA in a test tube, stitching ordinary chemical ingredients together to make life's most extraordinary molecule.

Now researchers are poised to cross a dramatic barrier: the creation of life forms by completely artificial DNA.

Scientists in USA have built the world's first entirely handcrafted chromosome -- a large looping strand of DNA made from scratch in a laboratory, containing all the instructions a microbe needs to live and reproduce.

In the coming year, they hope to transplant it into a cell, where it is expected to ''boot itself up,'' like software downloaded from the Internet, and influence the waiting cell to do its bidding.

And while the first synthetic chromosome is a plagiarised version of a natural one, others that code for life forms that have never existed before are already under construction.

''Evolutionary processes are no longer seen as sacred or inviolable. People in labs are figuring them out so they can improve upon them for different purposes, '' said Paul Rabinow, an anthropologist at the University of California.

Spearheading the research, scientists at University of California are also using artificial DNA to reprogramme E coli bacteria to produce a cheap alternative fuel.

The cobbling together of life from synthetic DNA, scientists and philosophers agree, will be a watershed event, blurring the line between biological and artificial -- and forcing a rethinking of what it means for a thing to be alive.

''This raises a range of big questions about what nature is and what it could be,'' the Washingtonpost quoted Mr Rabinow as saying.

UNI

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