50 years ago, synthetic DNA made its debut

Excerpt from the December 30, 1967 issue of Science News

TAILOR-MADE  A semisynthetic strain of Escherichia coli makes glowing green proteins using amino acids not found in nature.

William B. Kiosses

Viable synthetic DNA

[Scientists] produced in a test tube a totally artificial copy of a type of DNA virus.… The particular type of viral DNA (called Phi X174) the researchers made is an extremely simple molecule of only five or six genes. Their achievement, however, lays the foundation for eventual synthesis of more complex DNAs. — Science News, December 30, 1967


As predicted, that lab-made DNA molecule gave way to more complex forms, including whole genomes, and even semisynthetic organisms, albeit small ones (SN: 4/16/16, p. 6). In 2014, researchers reported endowing an E. coli bacterium with genetic instructions for creating amino acids not found in nature. Now, that semisynthetic strain of E. coli has made glowing green proteins with those unnatural molecules, scientists at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., and colleagues report November 30 in Nature.

Cassie Martin is a deputy managing editor. She has a bachelor's degree in molecular genetics from Michigan State University and a master's degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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