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Alternative Biochemistries for Alien Life: Basic Concepts and Requirements for the Design of a Robust Biocontainment System in Genetic Isolation

Diwo, Christian; Budisa, Nediljko

The universal genetic code, which is the foundation of cellular organization for almost all organisms, has fostered the exchange of genetic information from very different paths of evolution. The result of this communication network of potentially beneficial traits can be observed as modern biodiversity. Today, the genetic modification techniques of synthetic biology allow for the design of specialized organisms and their employment as tools, creating an artificial biodiversity based on the same universal genetic code. As there is no natural barrier towards the proliferation of genetic information which confers an advantage for a certain species, the naturally evolved genetic pool could be irreversibly altered if modified genetic information is exchanged. We argue that an alien genetic code which is incompatible with nature is likely to assure the inhibition of all mechanisms of genetic information transfer in an open environment. The two conceivable routes to synthetic life are either de novo cellular design or the successive alienation of a complex biological organism through laboratory evolution. Here, we present the strategies that have been utilized to fundamentally alter the genetic code in its decoding rules or its molecular representation and anticipate future avenues in the pursuit of robust biocontainment.
Published in: Genes, 10.3390/genes10010017, MDPI