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Princeton Researchers Construct Wholly Artificial Proteins That Can Sustain Cell Life

In a breakthrough that’s sure to stir up some controversy, Princeton researchers have reported that they have for the first time created artificial proteins from scratch in the lab that have enabled the growth of living cells. To achieve this, they created genetic sequences never seen in nature and produced completely synthetic proteins that were not modeled on living examples. They then inserted them into living bacteria, many of which thrived with their synthetic molecular machines.

For synthetic biology as a field, the ability to create components of life like proteins in the lab from a completely artificial genome is a big step, and one that ostensibly brings the field closer to fabricating life. As such, the achievement is sure to draw ire from the side of the “playing god” argument that sees such forays into the inner workings of life as dangerous.

Professor of Chemistry Michael Hecht and his team describe in a paper how they set about creating their synthetic proteins. They first created about 1 million amino acid sequences that would reliably fold into stable 3-D structures. After creating this new database of artificially sequenced proteins they inserted some of them into bacteria in which they had deleted certain natural genes necessary for survival under their controlled lab conditions.

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