This was on Dr. Kurzweil's Website
Scientists rewriting the genetic code
New York Times, July 24, 2001
Scientists are taking the first steps toward creating alternative life forms
-- organisms that use a genetic code different from the one used by all other
creatures on earth.
Scientists hope that such organisms can be used to study biochemical
processes in new ways and to produce new medical or electronic materials that
cannot now be made by living things.
The research goes well beyond current genetic engineering, which involves
reshuffling the ordinary components of DNA or proteins into new combinations
or moving DNA from one organism to another. Adding completely new elements to
DNA and proteins is essentially rewriting the genetic code. It is likely to
raise new ethical and safety issues.
Dr. David A. Tirrell, chairman of chemistry and chemical engineering at the
California Institute of Technology, has gotten bacteria to make a protein
with the nonstick properties of Teflon by having the microbes substitute an
unnatural amino acid for one of the 20 natural ones. He said such a protein
might one day be used to make artificial blood vessels.
Dr. Peter G. Schultz, director of the Genomics Institute of the Novartis
Research Foundation, wants to subject bacteria with extra synthetic amino
acids to stresses like heat or poison to see if they evolve and adapt faster
than natural bacteria. "Will those forms of life with a bigger building-block
set be superior to the ones who have 20?" he asked.
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