Scientists have developed a new technique to genetically engineer bacteria by making human-made DNA invisible to a bacterium's defenses.
In theory, the method can be applied to almost any type of bacteria. They live in the soil and water, on our skin and in our bodies.
Since scientists have a limited amount of time and resources, they tend to work with bacteria that have already been broken into, Johnston explained.
With this new tool, a major barrier to breaking into bacteria DNA has been solved, and researchers can use the method to engineer more clinically relevant bacteria. Gary Borisy, a Senior Investigator at the Forsyth Institute and co-author of the paper.
This approach sometimes works but can take considerable time and resources. Instead of adding a disguise to the human-made DNA, he removes a specific component of its genetic sequence called a motif.
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The bacterial defense system needs this motif to be present to recognize foreign DNA and mount an effective counter-attack.
Genetic engineering is the manual addition of new DNA to an organism to add one or more new traits that are generally not found in that organism. Aside from introducing additional copies of a gene to an organism, it may also mean changing or replacing one base pair or even deleting a whole region of DNA.
It could also mean taking DNA from one organism and mixing it with the DNA of another.
However, the problem is that bacteria have evolved complex defense systems to protect against foreign intruders -- especially foreign DNA.
Current genetic engineering approaches often disguise the human-made DNA as bacterial DNA to thwart these defenses, but the process requires highly specific modifications and is expensive and time-consuming. Christopher Johnston and his colleagues at the Forsyth Institute describe a new technique to genetically engineer bacteria by making human-made DNA invisible to a bacterium's defenses.