Scientists Create a Self-Replicating Reproductive Genome in the Lab

For the first time ever, a genome can reproduce itself like a natural one.
Fabienne Lang

One main part of life is the ability for processes to reproduce themselves. This means that a chemical system has to be maintained. Up until now, this was only ever possible naturally. 

Now, a team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry has found a way for a system to regenerate parts of its own DNA and protein building blocks, all on its own.


Synthetic biology

The field of synthetic biology has seen researchers focus much of their attention on generating life-mimicking systems from inanimate building blocks. Living organisms can usually conserve and reproduce themselves as different entities, whereas inanimate blocks typically cannot do this. 

Hannes Mutschler, head of the research group at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry, and his team have focused on imitating the replication of genomes and protein synthesis. Both processes are fundamental for the self-preservation and reproduction of biological systems. 

Using an in vitro system, the team was able to do this. "Our system is able to regenerate a significant proportion of its molecular components itself," explained Mutschler.

The team's in vitro system synthesizes proteins based on a DNA blueprint

The first author of the study, Kai Libicher, said "Unlike previous studies, our system is able to read and copy comparatively long DNA genomes."

The largest modular genome that the team reproduced consisted of more than 116,000 base pairs.

The team hopes to extend the artificial genome with additional DNA segments in the future. The next step is to produce a system that is able to stay viable as nutrients are added to it, and that enables it to dispose of waste products. 

Such a minimal cell could then be used in biotechnology, for instance, as a bespoke production machine for natural substances, or as a starting point for creating even more complex life-like systems.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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