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Question Your World: Can We Alter Our Own DNA?

Wether you’re building a house or baking a cake, you have to start with the raw ingredients. In nearly every situation, the basic components build and develop into the final product. For life, the basic components reside within our DNA and dictate nearly every single thing about us, so, can we alter our own DNA? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to learn more.

Right now, in your body, there are literally trillions of cells doing all kinds of work. Some are keeping your blood pumping, others are helping your brain to read these words, some others are impacting your hair color, and a myriad of other tasks that we don’t even think about. All of these cells, actions, muscles, bodily components, and beyond are all intricately designed by the four fundamental parts that create the genetic codes for life, the basic nucleic acids, A, G, C, and T. These four bases combine in long strands in different orders to create the blueprint for your body, your growth, and ultimately what is your life. Powerful stuff.

Recently, scientists did something that has only been possible by nature, they created artificial nucleic bases. We have A, G, T, and C that already exist within us and the two lab-created ones were labeled X and Y (this has nothing to do with the X and Y Chromosome, as of now these are just a label for these new bases). These two artificially created bases had a very simpler design function. They were created to hold the genetic code that allows for the opening of a cellular membrane in order to have access to the body’s DNA. The engineered bases were put to the test once they were injected into the body and allowed to interact with the other bases to join those long strands of information. Well, once in the body they did join up with the other bases and started to form long lines of code, which were then used by the living system to perform their functions. The artificial code was accepted by the living system and was also able to gain access to the DNA by means of an opened cellular membrane, just as designed by scientists.

This is no small task since the ability to control the genetic code of a creature is one of the most basic steps needed to impact a living organism’s life functions. This could have amazing impacts in the medical field since the ability to code and control cellular function would basically give us the keys to controlling diseases and how the body reacts to them. For example, telling the body to open a cellular membrane seems mind-blowing, but this means the ability to control other aspects of cellular function and beyond could be done the same way. This is a huge step forward for medical researchers that are looking for ways to attack cancer by using cloaked nano particles that could fit in with the cancer and then simply tell it to take a hike. We’re still a long way from this, but the proof that control over basic genetic information can be accomplished has now been published.

Aside from the many benefits this could have for diseases, mental conditions, and other applications yet to be dreamt up, we have to also keep the other side of this debate in mind too. The living system as we know it has been comprised of these 4 bases for a long time now. DNA, the architect of life, has been doing its thing for billions of years. Perhaps the four bases were chosen by evolution to be the ones that survive and function best here on Earth.  What are the cons of having this ability out in the public? Who would be the few individuals that have access to this information and procedure? Should we be messing with literally billions of years of evolution? Regardless of which side of the debate one is on, the proof that this process is possible has now officially been published and approved by the scientific community. Very interested stuff, but now the even more interesting bit will be to see where this research and technology goes in the future.

Article by: Prabir Mehta Science Museum of Virginia

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