Genome writing project aims to engineer cells to resist viral infection

Avatar By Lliane Hunter | 2 years ago

The synthetic biology project known as Genome Project-write (GP-write) has announced its plan to redesign the genomes of cells from humans with the purpose of making them “ultrasafe.” The goal of the project, which is still in the proposal phase, is to cut the cost of engineering, and testing large genomes consisting of hundreds of millions of DNA letters.

According to an article written by Kelly Servick for Science, drug companies are sometimes forced to halt production when viruses contaminate the cells they use to produce therapeutic proteins. Resistant cell lines would be safer and more efficient medicine factories, requiring less monitoring, writes Servick. The project may also allow researchers to eclipse editing tools such as CRISPR, which tweaks DNA at a few specific locations, toward more wholesale redesign of genomes, says Farren Isaacs, a bioengineer at Yale University, and a member of the GP-write scientific executive board.

Making cells resistant to viruses requires “recoding,” changing the three-letter DNA sequences known as codons that encode the amino acid building blocks of proteins. GP-write announced that making human cells virus-resistant will involve at least 400,000 changes to the genome. Researchers can swap out redundant codons and still preserve a cell’s vital functions. Isaacs envisions a day when GP-write is able to “rewrite genomes … to impart entirely new function into [an] organism.” GP-write organizers are also considering other cellular changes, such as resistance to cancerous mutations, radiation, and freezing.