One of the best known and most respected scientists in the world, without a doubt, is George Church. His CV could be summed up with the phrase genetics expert, but that falls far short. He is one of those responsible for developing genetic tests for ovarian and breast cancer. He has also been involved in research to recover the genes of the dodo bird, the woolly mammoth, and our evolutionary cousin, the mother-seeking Neanderthal. And his latest project is an organism immune to all viruses.
Scientists from the Harvard lab led by Chuch have genetically modified a bacterium, E. coli, so that it is totally immune to viruses. And not only that, they have also designed it so that its modified genes cannot escape into nature. “We believe we have developed the first technology to engineer an organism that cannot be infected by any known virus,” explains Akos Nyerges, a genetics researcher and one of the authors of the study published in Nature. We cannot say that it is completely resistant to viruses, but so far, based on extensive laboratory experiments and computational analysis, we have not found a virus that can infect it.”
This breakthrough could have important implications for the future of bacteria-based production, such as the use of bacteria to make medicines.
Cells and bacteria can be used as little laboratories or factories, producing any number of small molecules and biological compounds. The genome of the E. coli bacterium is well known and thanks to this used for the production of more than 20 biopharmaceuticals, including insulin. It is also used to make biofuels. The problem is when they get infected with a virus. “Viral contamination in cell cultures remains a real risk with serious consequences: in the last four decades, dozens of cases of viral contamination have been documented in industry,” the authors note in the study.
To make their E. coli resistant to the virus, the team used a special type of RNA and altered the function of genetic building blocks called codons. This modification basically prevents viruses from reproducing inside bacteria by giving it a “fake” RNA. Without these instructions, the virus has no way to reproduce. and it is no longer dangerous for the bacteria.
The authors believe that It would take dozens of mutations at very specific sites for a virus to enter this bacterium.. The next step is to use this technology to create bacteria that are resistant to infection. “Our results may provide the basis for a general strategy to make any organism safely resistant to all natural viruses and prevent genetic information from flowing in and out of genetically modified organisms,” the authors conclude.