Monday, 7 July 2008

Artificial DNA created, to revolutionise the health sector


July 7, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Four decades after India-born scientist Hargobind Khorana created natural
DNA in a test tube winning the Nobel Prize, a team of scientists in Japan has now made artificial DNA using entirely artificial material. The latest breakthrough is expected to bring a major revolution in the healthcare industry.
And Indian scientists foresee in the artificial DNA a solution to critical health problems like kidney and heart failure. The technology could also be used to foretell how the health of a person takes shape as he or she grows.
"Using artificial DNA technology we could find out the future health prospects of people. For instance, the blood drawn from a say 10-year-old boy will tell what diseases or health-related problems he would get say when he turns 40 or 45. But a lot of research need to be done in this field," says senior geneticist Dr Muhammad N Khaja, whose team had sequenced the Genome of the Hepatitis C Virus.
The artificial DNA developed by the Japanese team could lead to improvements in gene therapy like silencing disease-causing genes, nano-sized computers, and other high-tech advances.
Prof Rama Reddy Guntaka of University of Tennessee, USA, is of the view that artificial DNA could also be used in nano-sized computers and other high technology medical equipment. The DNA sequences can be altered to use them as switches to switch on and off the functioning of DNA.
The Japanese team led by Dr Masahiko Inouye of the University of Toyama stitched together four entirely new, artificial bases inside the sugar-based framework of a DNA molecule, creating unusually stable, double-stranded structures resembling natural DNA.
"Like natural DNA, the new ripoffs were right-handed and some easily formed triple-stranded structures. The unique chemistry of these structures and their high stability offer unprecedented possibilities for developing new biotech materials and applications. The artificial DNA might be applied to a future extracellular genetic system with information storage and amplifiable abilities," Dr Masahiko said.
The artificial DNA can advantageously be used information storage instead of natural DNA because of its stability against ubiquitous naturally occurring enzymes and its structural diversity. The artificial DNA is almost as stable as natural DNA, also raising the possibility of building new DNA nanostructures.Artificial DNA created through recombinant DNA technology is of great help for kidney patients. They suffer from severe anaemia and require erythropoietin to sustain their life. Erythropoietin is prepared artificially using the technology.
It is available as a therapeutic agent produced by recombinant DNA technology in cell culture. The chemical is also useful in the treatment of cancer and other critical illnesses like heart failure. "The advantage of a synthetic DNA over manipulating natural one is that you would have a lot more control over the properties of the cell than if you rely on natural DNA. You would be in a better position to design exactly what you want," says Dr Khaja.
Artificial DNA technology will help scientists detect unwanted genetic material from viruses, bacteria and even biological warfare agents. It will also streamline scientists' ability to detect defects in natural DNA, such as those responsible for cancers and genetic diseases. It will help in creation of end products that contribute as much to biological weaponry as to disease detection and new medicines.

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