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Synthetic alienation of microbial organisms by using genetic code engineering: Why and how?

12:10 EDT 3 Jul 2017 | Wiley Biotechnology Journal

The main goal of synthetic biology (SB) is the creation of biodiversity applicable for biotechnological needs, while xenobiology (XB) aims to expand the framework of natural chemistries with the non‐natural building blocks in living cells to accomplish artificial biodiversity. Protein and proteome engineering, which overcome limitation of the canonical amino acid repertoire of 20 (+2) prescribed by the genetic code by using non‐canonic amino acids (ncAAs), is one of the main focuses of XB research. Ideally, estranging the genetic code from its current form via systematic introduction of ncAAs should enable the development of bio‐containment mechanisms in synthetic cells potentially endowing them with a “genetic firewall” i.e. orthogonality which prevents genetic information transfer to natural systems. Despite rapid progress over the past two decades, it is not yet possible to completely alienate an organism that would use and maintain different genetic code associations permanently. In order to engineer robust bio‐contained life forms, the chemical logic behind the amino acid repertoire establishment should be considered. Starting from recent proposal of Hartman and Smith about the genetic code establishment in the RNA world, here the authors mapped possible biotechnological invasion points for engineering of bio‐contained synthetic cells equipped with non‐canonical functionalities. Until the 21st century, biology was predominantly an analytical science, which has now reached a point at which it passes into a synthetic science. From this point of view, we postulate that the ultimate goal of such engineering is to try to change the chemical composition of the living cells, that is, to create an artificial biological diversity of life with orthogonality which prevents the genetic information transfer to natural systems. This research is on the one hand closely linked to studies on the nature and origin of life, whereas on the other hand it will provide us with sophisticated bio‐inspired materials and synthetic cells that will surpass existing (bio)technologies with a potentially high value for society as a whole.

Original Article: Synthetic alienation of microbial organisms by using genetic code engineering: Why and how?

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