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'Bionic' bacteria created in lab

Sept. 21, 2011 at 7:28 PM   |   Comments

LA JOLLA, Calif., Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Artificially enhanced bacteria could create new synthetic drugs to help fight disease and biofuels to combat global warming, U.S. researchers say.

Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., said they've created bacteria capable of effectively incorporating "unnatural" amino acids, artificial additions to the 20 naturally occurring amino acids used as biological building blocks, a Salk release said Wednesday.

This could provide powerful insights into the study of biological processes and for engineering bacteria that produce new types of synthetic chemicals, researchers said.

An "expanded genetic code" created by the researchers overrides the genetic code of the cells in the enhanced bacteria and instructs them to use the artificial amino acids in the construction of proteins.

"This is the first time we've been able to produce a viable strain of bacteria capable of this," researcher Lei Wang said. "We still have a ways to go, but this makes the possibility of using unnatural amino acids in biological engineering far closer to being reality.

"It opens up new possibilities, from creating drugs that last longer in the blood stream to manufacturing chemicals in a more environmentally friendly manner."

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