Researchers Successfully Recode the Genome of Bacteria

A team of researchers have successfully recoded the genome of living bacteria. By editing the genome of bacteria, researchers are able to create organisms with traits not found in nature. This technique has important implications in medical research and biotechnology. The details are in a paper just published in the journal Science.

Recoding genomes allows for the creation of organisms with unique functions, such as the ability to synthesize uncommon products. Modified bacteria can also be used for medical research and are safer because they can’t survive outside the laboratory. Furthermore, it’s possible to recode bacteria in order to make them immune to viruses. Laboratories lose bacteria cultures due to viral contamination, making the modified bacteria even more valuable.

Researchers were able to recode the genome of a strain of Escherichia coli. The new genome was not 100% functional but the bacteria survived and most proteins were produced normally. The team managed to reduce the genome from 64 to 57 codons by using synonymous gene combinations. The resulting bacteria strains were 90% functional and had traits not seen in nature. Other attempts to recode the E.coli genome were unsuccessful but helped the researchers improve their technique. The team found, for example, 13 lethal combinations that result in nonviable bacteria.

The team was able to create mostly functional modified E.coli strains. They were able to completely replace the genome with new codon combinations, a feat that has never been accomplished until now. This allows scientists to come one step closer to the creation of new bacteria that have novel traits. The new bacteria can be modified to have a natural immunity to viruses, helping laboratories avoid losses from viral contamination. The technique would also for the development of custom bacteria that can be used in medical research. The authors of the study are hopeful that 100% functional bacteria will be developed soon.


Ostrov et al. Design, synthesis, and testing toward a 57-codon genome. Science (2016).

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