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Scientists Add Letters to DNA’s Alphabet, Raising Hope and Fear

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Scientists reported Wednesday that they had taken a significant step toward altering the fundamental alphabet of life — creating an organism with an expanded artificial genetic code in its DNA.

The accomplishment might eventually lead to organisms that can make medicines or industrial products that cells with only the natural genetic code cannot.

The scientists behind the work at the Scripps Research Institute have already formed a company to try to use the technique to develop new antibiotics, vaccines and other products, though a lot more work needs to be done before this is practical.

The work also gives some support to the concept that life can exist elsewhere in the universe using genetics different from those on Earth.

“This is the first time that you have had a living cell manage an alien genetic alphabet,” said Steven A. Benner, a researcher in the field at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainesville, Fla., who was not involved in the new work.

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