Re-writing DNA to Build Ultra-safe Cells

Written by Bioscribe on May 04, 2018

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It’s an ambitious project: The development of "ultra-safe cells" that resist natural viruses and potentially radiation, freezing, aging and cancer.

It’s also an impressive roster of scientists committed to the undertaking: Jef Boeke, Ph.D., director, Institute for Systems Genetics, at NYU Langone Medical Center; George Church, core faculty of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard Medical School; and nearly 200 others, affiliated with more than 100 institutions/companies in 15 countries.

Now Labcyte will be joining the Center for Excellence in Engineering Biology and the leadership of Genome Project-write (GP-write) effort, as one of three inaugural members of its Industry Advisory Board, alongside GenScript and Twist Bioscience.

Announced May 1, GP-write’s first grand-scale community-wide project will involve applying DNA recoding, previously demonstrated by Church in the bacteria E.coli, to different species. E. coli decoding required 321 changes to the bacterial genome in order to confer viral resistance. The proposed recoding of plant or mammalian genomes would be significantly more ambitious; recoding every protein in the human genome, for example, would require 400,000 changes.

"The ultra-safe cell lines, made using technologies broadly applicable to plant, microbial and mammalian species, are aimed at complete resistance to all viruses and prions, and partial resistance to senescence and cancer, plus biocontainment," said Prof. Boeke, who uses Echo liquid handling systems in his NYU lab.

Recoding will require large-scale changes to the genome, creating opportunities for researchers to make the cells safer in other ways, such as recoding genes to make the cell less likely to become cancerous, or enabling the cell to resist damage from aging, freezing and radiation.

Another proposed benefit of the ultra-safe cell line, and GP-write more broadly, would be the commercial development of new genomics analysis, design, synthesis, assembly and testing technologies, with the goal of making these technologies affordable and widely available to the scientific community.

The GP-write organizers hope to complete their work within 10 years.

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