Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Biotech United Kingdom Science

Scientists Modify Organism With Artificial Amino Acid 149

Posted by timothy
from the warm-glow-of-the-worms dept.
IndigoDarkwolf writes "The Beeb reports that biologists Sebastian Greiss and Jason Chin have genetically modified a multicellular organism (Caenorhabditis elegans, a tiny worm) to combine an amino acid not found in nature into a custom-built protein. The protein created by their genetically-modified worm contained a dye which glows when exposed to UV light. While previous work showed that genetic modification could incorporate non-natural amino acids into custom proteins for single-celled organisms, this is the first time an entire animal has been modified."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Scientists Modify Organism With Artificial Amino Acid

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward

    So... bets on how many years until we have enthusiast programmable critters? :)

    • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @07:43PM (#37064292)
      They did reprogram the worms. No doubt people have done DIY genetics with these worms before too. It's not as easy as genetic splicing with yeast or ecoli, but enthusiasts could definitely make their own transgenic worms in their garage. If you buy or make your own PCR machine [genomeweb.com], that's probably the biggest barrier right there.
      • Actually, it's a little trickier than that. Worms have to be microinjected. But that hasn't stopped people from trying to make worm engineering widely accessible. This [igem.org] is the seminal work on the topic, I believe.
      • by EnderDom (1934586)
        PCR machine's not much use without a polymerase. That's where having some e.coli with Taq expression construct comes in. But of course were I to take it out of the lab: I'd be arrested and the media might get hold of it and GM media shitstorm (with lashings of Pop Sci-Fi references) would ensue. Sometimes I am super tempted though. Would be cool to be able to run PCRs in my bedroom.
  • How is this different from those glowing Chineese pigs or those neon tetras with unnatural colors that are illegal in California?

    • How is this different from those glowing Chineese pigs or those neon tetras with unnatural colors that are illegal in California?

      Those involved taking a gene that created a naturally created protein using naturally occurring amino acids and then injected them, frankenstein style into another animal. These take an artificially modified gene that uses an artificial amino acid to create worms that glow. Did you read TFS?

      • by Narcocide (102829)

        I read it but I failed to comprehend it. Thank you for helping. (thanks to the other posts below helping clarify this for me as well)

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Please read the book before referencing Frankenstein, you sound like an idiot.

        • by RockDoctor (15477)
          Spoilsport! Do you want to undermine the whole of Slashdot by insisting that people actually know what they're talking about?
    • by EdZ (755139)
      Those spliced in existing genetic code. This involves code containing amino acids that are not found in nature.
      Car analogy: Swapping the suspension from another car onto your own vs. machining your own suspension from scratch to a design not used on any other car.
    • Re:Prior art? (Score:5, Informative)

      by interkin3tic (1469267) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @07:38PM (#37064260)
      The breakthrough here is not artificial biological fluorescence, which has been around for a long time. The breakthrough is also not that this is a fluorescent amino acid (as opposed to full proteins made up of many amino acids, like GFP, which is again what you're talking about), evidently those have been demonstrated for a few years. This is tricking an organism into -using- an artificial amino acid, a fluorescent one.

      Being able to incorporate fluorescent amino acids into a protein -looks- pretty striking, but people have been able to get cells to attach a fluorescent protein onto other proteins for years. The fluorescence here was just an easy assay to tell if they had gotten the c elegans to use a different, entirely artificial building block. Fluorescent amino acids may turn out to be the biggest use for this discovery, but the real story here is that we have a new tool, not that the tool can be used to make organisms glow.
    • by NoMaster (142776)

      It's the "amino acid not found in nature" that's the story here, not the "dye which glows when exposed to UV light".

      They've modified the DNA of a multi-celluar organism to produce a non-natural amino acid. It's been done before, yes, but only in single-celled organisms. The sequence is

      1) Take a fluorescing protein
      2) Modify the protein so it only glows when contains_custom_amino_acid == TRUE.
      3) Insert protein sequence in DNA
      4) PROFIT!

      The glowing pigs, cats, dogs, and fish omit step #2.

    • The glowing Chinese pigs are using proteins and amino acids that already exist: we found the proteins in an existing animal, probably some deep-sea fish, then took the DNA responsible for the creation for those proteins, and spliced it into the genome of the pigs. Here, they decided on what protein they wanted ahead of time, with plain old chemistry, then crafted a custom DNA sequence for the purpose of creating that protein (apparently creating never-before-used amino acids in the process). Existing protei
  • I don't mean like haha, "I, for one, welcome our new C. elegans overlords" or tagging the story with whatcouldpossiblygowrong. I mean The Stand. Could somebody with a reasonable knowledge of GM organisms please offer some reassurance that this technique couldn't backfire in some disastrous way?
    • by Kittenman (971447)
      I sort of agree with the AC - everything can backfire in some disastrous way. My daughter's piano teacher fell down some steps and bruised her arm. I got a splinter in my finger putting logs into the woodburner. Question is, is the risk worth it?

      IMHO, yes.

    • I mean The Stand. Could somebody with a reasonable knowledge of GM organisms please offer some reassurance that this technique couldn't backfire in some disastrous way?

      Well, c.elegans doesn't cause disease, they eat bacteria. They are also far, far, far too macroscopic to be airborne even if they were to suddenly take a liking to human flesh.

      As far as assurances that this technique couldn't backfire, there are nearly infinite ways that absolutely anything could backfire if you don't look at probability. Turning on your car could backfire in that the engine might explode due to a defect, could explode due to some quirk of quantum physics, could produce through the bur

    • Well, let's say these engineered worms escape into the environment. 1) the paper does not show whether the changes they made to the worm's genome are heritable, so the worm's offspring might not be able to incorporate the unnatural amino acids and the trait might go away after the escaped engineered worms die. Even if the trait is heritable, the paper suggests that the gene cassette they engineered into the worm gets lost from the genome over time, so after a few generations, the trait would likely be los

    • by c0lo (1497653)
      TFA - with my emphasis

      But Dr Chin says any artificial amino acid could be chosen to produce specific new properties. Dr de Bono suggests the approach could now be used to introduce into organisms designer proteins that could be controlled by light.

      On the "bright side" - some designer CART-s [wikipedia.org] activated by shining a laser [slashdot.org] inside the ear?

    • Your post reminds me of the DoomSayers wailing about the imminent demise of humanity when the tech for test-tube babies was being developed way back when.

      I'm not saying don't be concerned about disasters, but geez, there are other things to worry about in this sad world of ours.

      Does this http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/antiviral-0810.html [mit.edu] also fill you with dread?

    • by geekoid (135745)

      It can't backfire in a disastrous 'the stand' way.

      You want specifics? can't really do that in a /. post. so read up o the science. The actual science, not random returns from a google search.

  • by ideonexus (1257332) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @07:33PM (#37064220) Homepage Journal

    So far in the Genetically Modified Foods debate, I've been arguing that, since the genes spliced into GMOs are genes that already exist in nature, GMOs really aren't the nightmarish cancer-causing foodstuffs people make them out to be and that GM foods are the only way we're going to support a population of 7 billion people on this planet just as nitrogen-fixing fertilizer caused a green revolution that allows us to support our current population size.

    So what happens when we start splicing genes into organisms that don't exist in nature? When companies start wanting to work this stuff into our food, and the FDA and courts roll over to allow it unquestioningly, then I think I might start to side with the anti GM Food people. This could be a second green revolution, but with America gutting its science programs, there will be no one to make sure this stuff doesn't have horrible health repercussions.

    • by wierd_w (1375923) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @07:41PM (#37064278)

      On the other hand, creating engineered novel protiens and biomechanics could open the doors to a whole range of "Very very cool" things.

      Take for instance, slime molds modified to produce long chain carbon nanofiber as they crawl along, or plants able to extract energy from a wider frequency band than is currently possible with photosynthesis (Or even to do so more efficiently.)

      Simply because the substance is artifically engineered does not necessarily mean it is going to cause problems. (and if it does, it will just spark a flash of evolutionary progression in impacted species, much like antibiotics have done for microbes.)

      I can see this being used in foodstuffs, especially where Monsanto is involved, but where I see this really shining is in materials science. Microbes are the most efficient nano-machines in existence. Being able to custom program them to make novel substances and materials is a fundemental leap on technology.

      • (and if it does, it will just spark a flash of evolutionary progression in impacted species, much like antibiotics have done for microbes.)

        This seems like a good time to point out that one way of "sparking" evolutionary progression is killing off 95% of a population. Given the likelihood of homo sapiens counting among the "impacted species," I'd have to ask you if you like your odds?

        • by Creedo (548980)

          This seems like a good time to point out that one way of "sparking" evolutionary progression is killing off 95% of a population. Given the likelihood of homo sapiens counting among the "impacted species," I'd have to ask you if you like your odds?

          The odds of us going extinct is 100%. The only question is how and when. The odds of some GM food introducing a fatal bit of DNA into the wild and causing our deaths is negligible at best. We are far more likely to kill ourselves simply by continuing our current consumption rates and mining out vital ecosystems.

      • by olau (314197)

        "or plants able to extract energy from a wider frequency band than is currently possible with photosynthesis (Or even to do so more efficiently.)"

        This sounds a bit bonkers, not entirely, but still. Presumably, if a wider frequency band was beneficial for growth, plants would have evolved that trait many million years ago?

        • by wierd_w (1375923)

          Evolution favors local optima, not general optima.

          Photosynthetic lifeforms use either anthrocyanins, or chlorophylls. (Or both)

          Each reacts to a different band of energy. Chloropyll reacts predominantly to yellow and red light, but totally ignores other kinds of light, like UV, or blue light. (Chlorophyll does faintly flouresce under uv light, but does not use it for photosynthesis).

          Making plantlife that can absorb even just the whole of the visible spectrun (which would make them black instead of green) w

        • by mattack2 (1165421)

          What if the evolution had found a local maxima in terms of frequency band usage? If changing a _whole bunch_ of genes at a time caused the ability to "extract energy from a wider frequency band than is currently possible with photosynthesis", but only changing one or a few at a time was worse than the existing plants?

    • So far in the Genetically Modified Foods debate, I've been arguing that, since the genes spliced into GMOs are genes that already exist in nature, GMOs really aren't the nightmarish cancer-causing foodstuffs people make them out to be

      The problem with that line of reasoning is that we've had hundreds of thousands of years to figure out what plants are safe to eat. When you mix-and-match genes, be they totally artificial or transplants from other species, you don't know what the outcome will be. It's entirely possible that this brand new combination will produce un-expected side-effects.

      Obvious side-effects like producing massive quantities of arsenic will get noticed before it ever leaves the lab. But something more subtle that doesn'

      • by WillDraven (760005) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @08:31PM (#37064546) Homepage

        Boo fucking Hoo. Some people might possibly have health problems we can't foresee in ten years is your reasoning to stop the advancement of biology and nutrition science? I am so sick of the whole "we can't do anything that might possibly be dangerous" attitude. Shit Happens. People Die. Live with it (or don't, if you're one of the unlucky few). If you want to live in an absolutely safe environment your local mental institution has a nice padded cell for you. Out here in the real world us human beings have to take risks to get anywhere in life.

        • Boo fucking Hoo. Some people might possibly have health problems we can't foresee in ten years is your reasoning to stop the advancement of biology and nutrition science

          So, let me get this straight. A million people die of cancer 15 years down the road because of an unintended side-effect of say, GMO corn, and you think that's no big deal?

          Out here in the real world us human beings have to take risks to get anywhere in life.

          Yeah, why don't we do away with the FDA completely? Just put anything and everything on the market and let people decide on their own, amiright?

          • by bane2571 (1024309)
            ?So, let me get this straight. A million people die of cancer 15 years down the road because of an unintended side-effect of say, GMO corn, and you think that's no big deal?

            Evert time I clap, a child dies from starvation[/bono], GMO crops have the potential to greatly increase food yields. I'd say the gain far outweighs the risk. That is only with the known benefits. That is the beauty of science, keep moving and you discover NEW good things to balance any new bad things. Stop moving and the best you can
          • by WillDraven (760005) on Friday August 12, 2011 @05:55AM (#37066598) Homepage

            I'm not saying we shouldn't try to avoid it. By all means run the models and animal trials and don't approve anything for human trials that looks like it could kill tons of people. All I'm saying is if the science of today says it's safe, we should give it a chance. Especially if it's the sort of thing that's going to SAVE millions from starvation, but even if it's not! Accidents work both ways you know. Those guys goofing off making glowing pets might be the ones to stumble on a cure for those cancers you seem to be so worried about. You can't shut down a whole line of research just because your gut tells you it could be dangerous.

            We should be encouraging creative thinking and new areas of development. We should also be encouraging basic rigor and safety protocols, of course, punishing those who act irresponsibly. But we can't punish those who honestly tried to safely make the world a better, more interesting, more awesome place, and ran into some unforeseeable consequences.

            Imagine if Fleming had developed penicillin, started the antibiotic revolution saving countless lives, and then we discovered 20 years later that it caused anyone who had taken it to drop dead suddenly years down the line. Should we have lynched him for giving those people who probably would have died of infection 20 more years of happy healthy life? When the science of the day had NO WAY of knowing that would happen?

              Should we test every new drug and GMO food by giving it to a small sample of people and locking them in a bubble for the rest of their natural life to control the experiment and make sure nothing bad happens to them, just on the off chance it could kill millions even though there is no known mechanism for it to do that? Even when NOT releasing it means millions of people will definitely die from starvation or disease?

            My point is, sometimes, shit happens. Yes we should try to avoid it where possible, but not to the extent that we never learn anything new, such as WHY shit happens and how to prevent it.

          • by geekoid (135745)

            SO it's OK to let million of people die today for some highly improbably risk?

            "Yeah, why don't we do away with the FDA completely? Just put anything and everything on the market and let people decide on their own, amiright?"

            See, right there. Clearly you have no argument and are working with pure ignorant emotions. DO you know why I'm not worried? Controls, knowledge, benefits.
            Yeah, take all the controls away then I would be concerned. But that's not what happens.

            "...should demean themselves as good citizens

            • DO you know why I'm not worried? Controls,

              What controls? Like the 90 days of testing Monsanto did on their gmo corn? Or the zero days of testing that the FDA requires for new gmo foods? Or the lone(!) human feeding study of gmo foods? Or how about the zero epidemiological studies of general gmo food consumption?

              I got into this argument for one reason -- to show that the "it's natural so it must be safe" argument doesn't stand up to scrutiny. But after seeing the massive fanboism here you all have caused me to do just the barest minimum of res

      • Humans have been making mistakes for millenia: leaded petrol, tobacco, untreated industrial emissions, bloodletting, routine X-ray overdoses, CFCs, MRSA, feral cats/pigs/ferrets, dropping Agent Orange on forests, RMS Titanic, etc. We're stronger than ever for it. You know what? I'm happy I'm not in a forest fighting bears, a farm tilling soil, a factory shovelling coal or any of the horrific lives that shortsighted morons at the time felt were good enough. I dearly hope my great great great grandchildren w
      • That's been more true of most of recorded history than it is true now. When farmers were cultivating maize centuries ago, blindly mixing genes, they weren't optimizing for least carcinogenic or best for health. They were, in fact, mixing and matching without knowing what the outcome was going to be.

        GMOs, on the other hand, are tested for health effects when they're made.

        Furthermore, when you modify a strain of crops, you only are trying to modify it a little. When you use artificial selection to
      • by geekoid (135745)

        In nature , plants and animals mix and match gene all the fucking time, and with no controls.

        Now we can make changes with laser like precision, with controls and knowledge. That is better.
        Tomorrow, nature could make a breed of carrot that sin't good to eat. In fact, it happens often, but they are weeded out through cultivation.

        Just because it's man made, doesn't make it "unsafe"

      • by HiThere (15173)

        It's not even that unexpectable. When plants & animals have their genomes streamlined, and are designed to grow faster, one thing that's often removed is some of the vitamins traditionally made by the plant. This is often well known. (E.g., there are reports that the GM salmon being proposed are skimpy in some of the omega oils. Vital? No. Important? Yes.) But a real problem is that often a complete analysis isn't done, and we don't yet know what is needed to keep people healthy.

        Now this wouldn'

    • by Okian Warrior (537106) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @09:31PM (#37064774) Homepage Journal

      Yes, it's a dilemma.

      On the one hand, GM foods might pose a risk somewhere in the future, but lots of really smart people have been trying to quantify and identify what these risks might be, to no effect.

      On the other hand, people are starving *now*. I'm all for safety, but can we eat first?

      People are scared because in the past we've made mistakes. For example, DDT accumulates, and causes problems higher up in the food chain. On the other hand, DDT was not fatal, it was not an extinction-level event, we noticed the risks and stopped.

      It's the future, we've learned a great deal, and we're being more careful. It's much less *likely* that we'll be making these types of mistakes overall. Mistakes will still be made, but that's inevitable whatever we do. When it happens, we'll identify the causes, change the conditions and move on.

      I'm willing to allow the possibility that a percentage of the world's poor will have some as-yet-undiscovered problem (which may be an inconvenience or may be life-threatening) in exchange for reducing the immediate suffering of massive populations of people *now*.

      It's a typical risk/reward tradeoff, something we make every day, such as driving a car. Take the path where the benefits outweigh the risks.

      • I once heard, though I personaly can't verify, that we don't have a food production problem, but rather a distribution and economic problem.
        • by HiThere (15173)

          This is, at least often, the problem. OTOH, it's also occasionally true that there *IS* a shortfall in production. But it's not generally clear that GMO foods would solve the problem.

          E.G.: In northern India the farmers are depleting the water table faster that it is replenished. If they grew wheat instead of rice this would be less of a problem, as wheat requires a lot less water. What's actually being done is improvements in techniques for monitoring soil moisture, so they won't water quite as much.

          St

      • by geekoid (135745)

        "DDT accumulates, and causes problems higher up in the food chain."
        haha, there isn't any evidence of this, and the statements made in 'silent spring' were completely made up. As in they had NO scientific baking simply Speculation.

        The thinning shell argument was a great case of confusing correlation with causation. I could just as easily say the thinning was cause bad leaded fuel. actually that's more plausible, but still its just speculation. That said 'Silent Spring' never argues for the ban of DDT, just i

    • Today's genes 'that don't exist in nature' are tomorrow's genes that do. Organisms naturally acquire new genes and new gene combinations; hence, evolution. I don't see why we would trust random cosmic radiation with unknowable mutagenic capacity more than we would trust the carefully tested and purposeful work of dedicated scientists. Nor is it really relevant to its biological effects whether a new protein comes from a lab or a paramecium--it's going to be equally alien to our anatomy either way.

      All in

    • As the article notes, this has been done with all sorts of amino acids in E. coli. In fact, "amber suppression" is a fairly common way to introduce any amino acid you want into your protein. Commonly they are uniquely reactive amino acids for labeling a protein site-specifically for experiments to gain insight into the protein's function. (I'm actually doing this in my lab to look at the function of an HIV protein.)

      With E. coli, introducing the extra amino acid doesn't usually confer an advantage because
    • Well, considering the green revolution and GMO foods have already given us the soy and corn based diet that is slowly fattening us up and then killing us (due to all the diseases related to either obesity or increased inflammation), I kind of feel like maybe we're already in deep enough shit. Fucking around with our food at a fundamental chemical level seems like a whole new level of wtf. Then again, people gotta eat. I don't know what the solution is, other than buy less useless shit from Wal Mart and spen

      • by geekoid (135745)

        "given us the soy and corn based diet that is slowly fattening us up and then killing u"
        no it's not, stop being stupid.

        Corn and soy is fine. Putting to many calories in your mouth is the problem.

        " Fucking around with our food at a fundamental chemical level seems like a whole new level of wtf."
        No it's not. If you think what we do is crazy, you should study on what nature does. It's mixing and maxing cross species gene all the fucking time.

        But no, be alarmist and ignorant.

        • So, just to be sure I understand, your argument is "nuh uh!"
          Well shit, I'm convinced. Thanks for setting me straight.

    • by tibit (1762298)

      I'd worry about the opposite effect of America gutting the science programs: that you have uneducated masses of pitchfork-wielding idiots who live in the 21st century and have about as much knowledge about the world as the medieval peasants had. And they go to the polls and vote.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Basically your fear starts where you knowledge drops off.

      Any horrible repercussion will need to be so dramatic, it will be noticeable wright away.

      "The technique, they say, could give biologists "atom-by-atom control" over the molecules in living organisms.

      That means control and testing will be easier and and better.

    • by HiThere (15173)

      I *am* opposed ot GM foods, but largely because of patent law. Most of the technical problems encountered so have easy technical solutions. Legal problems are something else. The laws might have been specially designed to allow corporations to commit any evil they choose and escape from paying for the damage caused. This coupled with patent laws causes me to be strongly opposed to GM foods, and to many other GM products.

  • Seriously. Every time I hear about genes being crammed into some other species or amino acids being pushed where they "don't belong", something starts glowing. What's the deal with glowies, did they play too much WoW and now thing only if it glows it's epic or what?

    • Haven't you watched a single b-horror flick - monsters glow! But seriously, I think it is so they can be quickly identified within a population... icbwt
    • by maxume (22995)

      They want a demonstration of their result that has visual impact.

    • Seriously. Every time I hear about genes being crammed into some other species or amino acids being pushed where they "don't belong", something starts glowing. What's the deal with glowies, did they play too much WoW and now thing only if it glows it's epic or what?

      Glowing is a way for scientists to monitor gene expression. You can't really watch it on its own, so you incorporate the gene you are working with with a fluorescent protein. Then the gene you are interested in will be expressed with the fluorescent protein, allowing you to see when and where your gene is being expressed.

      That also gives you a way to monitor the noise of the system; if you are trying to deploy something with good control but your critter glows green all the time, you need to adjust so

    • In the case of this study, the researchers are tricking the worm to incorporate an unnatural amino acid in the place of a stop codon (TAG to be specific). The researchers created an reporter gene that codes for a red fluorescent protein (mCherry) after a TAG stop codon. If the worm is not able to incorporate the unnatural amino acid, the cell will stop producing the protein once it encounters the TAG stop codon and not produce the red fluorescent part of the reporter gene. Successful incorporation of the un
    • Tbh, I'd LOVE to have the ability to glow in the dark or in UV light. Damn, that'd be cool :D

      • Ugh... now I have that mental image of a gay porn looking like a scene from Star Wars stuck in my head.

  • I was wondering how the virus was going to get developed. Now we know.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Good news! When the come and eat your brain you will experience no loss what so ever.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...who read 'orgasm' instead of 'organism'?

  • Does this discovery have any affect on HIV research?
    • Not really. It could allow future use of amber suppression in higher eukaryotes, esp those that are models for HIV / SIV study (primates, mice, cats/FIV). That is still far off.
  • It was a hard enough fight to keep genes un-patentable, and in some parts of the world that fight was even lost. What is the impact of non-natural genes in patentability? Is the fight open again?
  • ..because no bacteria will be able to process the new amino acid. I'm sure if these build up in the enviroment there couldn't possibly be any problems. Oh no.

  • How long before we get that cool black goo from spiderman 3?
    I could use some of that!

  • Proof that it is possible for a higher life form to create/edit/delete a lessor life form.
    Also proof of synthetic humanoids in the future.

How many Unix hacks does it take to change a light bulb? Let's see, can you use a shell script for that or does it need a C program?

Working...