• Question: Are you able to make new species with DNA sequencing

    Asked by ddab to Barbastelle Bat, Eurasian Otter, European Flat Oyster, Glow Worm, Lundy Cabbage, Scaly Cricket, Scottish Wildcat, Spot Fly, Strapwort on 2 Dec 2017.
    • Photo: Scottish Wildcat

      Scottish Wildcat answered on 2 Dec 2017:

      No, but DNA sequencing can be used to discover new species: When a genome is sequenced, it’s like reading a book that describes in great detail how to build an organism. Some people have used this knowledge to construct ‘synthetic’ or artificial bacteria, but what they are doing is using molecular biology techniques to understand how the information that already exists in a bacterial genome is interpreted by a living cell. The natural DNA alphabet has four letters ATGC, which are interpreted in groups of three letters to represent amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. However, it has recently been announced that scientists have added two new letters to the DNA alphabet by making artificial DNA nucleotides:


      Although these have only been tested in E. coli bacteria, it might be possible to create new species that don’t occur naturally using these techniques. Depending on your point of view, that is either a total nightmare scenario and spells death to the planet or a fantastic opportunity to use bacteria to manufacture complex biological chemicals like antibiotics that are very expensive to produce and without which modern medicine would not exist. We desperately need new antibiotics because the disease causing bacteria are becoming resistant to the antibiotics we do have. I think that, with careful testing and strict regulation these synthetic bacteria could be life savers, but just think what would happen if terrorists got hold of the technology and used it to make a biological weapon 🙁