Science Just Created An Alien Organism With An Artificial Genetic Code, So Take Cover
Look alive, fans of science fiction and science fact alike — scientists have created a new alien life-form with artificial DNA bases never before seen in nature. In a study published Wednesday in, well, Nature journal, the scientists responsible said they'd created a living bacteria with a six-letter genetic code, two of which were artificially designed. In other words — we kinda just created an alien, guys.
All natural DNA is comprised of different combinations of the two pairs of DNA bases — represented by the letters A-T and G-C. Those four letters, repeated virtually endlessly in myriad different, unique combinations are what, on the genetic level, make us who we are. The scientists at TSRI, however, have reportedly changed the script dramatically, adding their own two artificially produced bases, X-Y. The result is a humble E. coli bacteria, which despite the lab-engineered bases seems to be replicating itself normally.
The next big test, according to the group, will be whether the new expanded bases can also be transcribed into a cell's RNA, or Ribonucleic acid, as well. The RNA is responsible for cellular protein production, and the successful introduction of human-engineered additions to its code could mean big things for medical science, theoretically allowing science to make specific, beneficial changes to the functions of human cells.
Of course, this technical, science-y angle might sound boring, so let's skip straight to the real question — how long until an experiment gone wrong creates a colossal, terrifying creature that destroys our hapless species?
The short answer is, well, maybe? Nah, don't worry, surely. That kind of stuff only happens in movies, yeah?
This new research is in extremely early days, obviously, so there probably isn't too much urgency to start stockpiling rations and building your secluded, subterranean desert bunker. At present, scientists are merely testing different theories at the bacterial level, tinkering at the margins. You'd be hard pressed to guarantee that this slightly modified bacteria has set us on course to our own species' downfall.
But all joking aside, some people are concerned about the long-term implications of all this. For instance, Jim Thomas, spokesperson for the Canadian-based ETC Group, who voiced some concerns to The New York Times:
The arrival of this unprecedented ‘alien’ life form could in time have far-reaching ethical, legal and regulatory implications. While synthetic biologists invent new ways to monkey with the fundamentals of life, governments haven’t even been able to cobble together the basics of oversight, assessment or regulation for this surging field.
Which is absolutely true. It could also have revolutionarily positive impacts on health, wellness and medicine, however — like all great scientific discoveries, the potential for use and misuse abound. Just be sure to watch your back out there.