Man Made DNA- New frontiers in Science and Medicine or Dangerous Grounds?

Hey Geeks,

Hope you are all well. Due to popular demand from my out-of-the-closet geeks, I promised a while back that I would add a new category which would deal with the major scientific theories and here it is.

Now, because I am a genetic and molecular biology specialist by training, I think you will all forgive me if I indulge in my area of expertise to begin with :-). And I hope you will understand why.

Yesterday, the world was introduced to one of the biggest new developments in the world of genetics since the Human Genome Project.  Scientific researchers at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, in Cambridge, have developed chemical procedures that turn DNA and RNA, the molecular blueprints for all known life, into six alternative genetic polymers called XNAs.

I want you to take a moment and really take this in. It basically means that scientists have created artificial genetic material that can store information and evolve over generations in a similar way to DNA. WOAH. This is BIG. Not only is this expected to open up new doors for researching medicines and systems in biotechnology to fight major diseases such as cancer and hereditary disfunctions, but it provides a real tool that could enable scientists to make new novel forms of life in the lab.  All the science fiction lovers must be silently whispering “I told you so”.

Here comes the Hard-Core Science. The process swaps the deoxyribose and ribose (the “d” and “r” in DNA and RNA) for other molecules. It was found the XNAs could form a double helix with DNA and were more stable than natural genetic material. More importantly, the XNAs are shown to be able to stick to a protein, an ability that might mean the polymers (protein “strings”) could be deployed as drugs working like antibodies (the things that fight disease in our bodies).

Further, Vitor Pinheiro, a co-author on the paper, said the research could help scientists work out how DNA and RNA became so crucial in the evolution of life, and perhaps even help in the search for extraterrestrial organisms. “If a genetic system doesn’t have to be based on DNA and RNA, what then do you define as life? How do you look for life?” he is quoted as saying.

This sounds crazy right? but other scientists, including Craig Venters team, who are the “oracles” of the genetics world are hoping to make synthetic organisms from scratch! However, the majority of the work so far has used conventional DNA. Which leads me to the ethical and religious arguments that I am sure will follow this paper. As a spiritual/religious person I have had the creation discussion many times before and some believe that as a Muslim I should not be messing with DNA etc etc. I disagree. It is not that simple. However, this far outweighs just religion, as a human, how far do you think we should go in-order to further science, medicine and technology? Click on this link to read the full abstract and get the article from the journal Science.

The Avengers movie is out, it all seems a bit more likely now….I will leave you to ponder

Let me know what you think? how does this discovery make you feel? Please share, re-post, re-blog, tweet this post if you enjoyed reading it.

Until next time

E

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