Further to “De-extinction: Crackpot idea or only a hint of astonishing new biotechnology?”, wherein we noted that aspiring mammoth cloner George Church praised Steve Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt, Carl Zimmer tells us at Nautilus,
Scientists are becoming more and more adept at using the genetic code to produce valuable molecules. They can make goats produce spider silk in their milk. They can tweak genes to make new proteins, such as tailor-made antibodies designed to attack certain pathogens. All these feats are possible because of life’s lingua franca.
Yet the genetic code also puts limits on biotechnology’s creativity. It encodes only 20 amino acids. There are hundreds of other amino acids in nature (even some seen in interstellar space) that were never incorporated into life. What’s more, scientists can synthesize unnatural amino acids of practically infinite variety. If scientists could reprogram the genetic code to include these other amino acids, it would open up a universe of possibilities for how to control life.
The fact that nature has already tweaked the genetic code gave researchers the confidence to try to alter it some more. They carried out their first attempts in the early 2000s. In one such study in 2002, Peter Schultz, a chemist at the Scripps Research Institute, and his colleagues created proteins that are sensitive to light.
Living dimmer switches next?
We’re waiting to see what happens when this crowd collides with the Whole Foods Market, for which, see “Journalist wonders, why Creation Museum inspires rage, whole foods scams don’t (sky fell last night too, by the way).” We recommend fallout shelters for the duration. 😉
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Hat tip: Matthew Cochrane