New “Synthetic Bacteria” Poses Possible Health Risk

Scientists at Harvard Medical School have created a novel strain of E. coli that is resistant to viral infections without releasing its changed genes into the wild, lowering the potential for the modified genetic material to be incorporated into naturally occurring cells. 

Ec Syn61?3-SL, as the strain is called, has fewer codons and cannot release its changed genes into the wild, lowering the potential for the modified genetic material to be incorporated into normal cells. The strain was developed by starting with Syn61?3, a synthetic bacterium with fewer codons that cannot escape into the wild and spread its altered genes.

The Earth has an astonishing variety of bacteriophages, so the scientists set out to evaluate the 2021 strain’s resistance to other viruses. Using viruses recovered from a wide range of environmental samples, they inoculated the Syn61?3 strain and identified a subset that was able to replicate and spread. The scientists examined the genomic material of the successful virus and discovered that each virus had its own tRNA, making it easy to circumvent the genetic constraint of the synthetic bacteria. To develop an updated E.

The genetic material of the bacterium was modified by Nyerges and his colleagues to include trickster tRNAs. These tRNAs were altered such that, while reading the viral genome, they would add leucine rather than serine, so preventing the synthetic bacteria from being infected by any bacteriophage. The modified cells were resistant to infection by any of the viruses examined. 

The synthetic E. coli strain generated by the researchers is confined to conditions with sufficient supplies of the artificial amino acid biphenylalanine.

This implies that the development of synthetic E. coli is restricted to places where the artificial amino acid is present, inhibiting the spread of artificial genetic information. 

Furthermore, according to Rob Lavigne of the University of Leuven, the methods employed to produce the new E. coli might be used to other areas as well, such as developing a completely synthetic genome for more complicated species. Scientists will have greater leeway to play with the biology of bacteria if they are able to generate strains with more codons as part of future studies in bacterial biotechnology.