Researchers say they have created the first ever animal with artificial information in its genetic code.
The technique, they say, could give biologists “atom-by-atom control” over the molecules in living organisms.
One expert the BBC spoke to agrees, saying the technique would be seized upon by “the entire biology community”.
The work by a Cambridge University team, which used nematode worms, appears in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
The worms – from the species Caenorhabditis elegans – are 1mm long, with just a thousand cells in their transparent bodies.
What makes the newly created animals different is that their genetic code has been extended to create biological molecules not known in the natural world.
Genes are the DNA blueprints that enable living organisms to construct their biological machinery, protein molecules, out of strings of simpler building blocks called amino acids.
Just 20 amino acids are used in natural living organisms, assembled in different combinations to make the tens of thousands of different proteins needed to sustain life.
But Sebastian Greiss and Jason Chin have re-engineered the nematode worm’s gene-reading machinery to include a 21st amino acid, not found in nature.
Dr Chin of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (where Francis Crick and James Watson first cracked the structure of DNA) describes the technique as “potentially transformational”: designer proteins could be created that are entirely under the researchers’ control….
So what are we to say about this?
Is this a beautiful and important advance in the field of science that will have the potential to greatly benefit humanity or the world?
or… is this crossing the line by “playing God?”
An implication that comes to mind is the creation of an army of mutant animal or humanish troops. That’s a long ways from modifying a worm… but… things happen quickly these days. Or maybe, I’ve been watching too much sci fi.
For additional fodder to chew on that’s related to this, here’s a Catholic statement regarding humans and genetics.
And here’s the statement from the United Methodist Church, a relatively liberal mainline Protestant denomination.
Roger is the author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity