Harvard researchers have nearly recoded E. coli bacterium — 5 things to know about the virus-resistant genome

In a proof-of-concept study, Boston-based Harvard Medical School researchers have nearly completed recoding the Escherichia coli bacterium to work with a new genetic code.

The recoding process involved researchers designing the genome digitally and synthesizing the DNA in small pieces of about 2,000 DNA letters each. They fit these DNA pieces together via gene editing.

The researchers prevented the environmental spread of the organism by stopping it from functioning unless it had a specialized amino acid which doesn't occur naturally.

Science published the research.

Here are five things to know:

1. Once completed, this will represent the first full genetic recoding of a living organism.

2. E. coli is a single-celled prokaryote organism, and recoding it requires 62,000 changes to the bacterial genome.

3. If successfully recoded, the E. coli bacterium could produce all types of proteins, which will feature exceptional complexity.

4. The recoded E. coli bacterium would also be resistant to every known virus.

5. Looking to the future, the researchers are interested in developing human stem cells resistant to all viruses.

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