Research note: Scientists recode organisms to resist viral contamination

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(Illustration by Colin Hemez and Natalie Ma)

Yale researchers have discovered a novel way to combat viral contamination of bio-factories that produce a growing number of drugs, chemicals, and fuels. The method involves recoding organisms to stop horizontal transfer of genes — which viruses use to infect and hijack cellular machinery to reproduce, they report July 14 in the journal Cell Systems. Viral contamination is a common problem for many drug and chemical companies and led to the 2009 shutdown of the Genzyme plant that produced orphan drugs for rare diseases. The Yale researchers Farren Isaacs and Natalie Ma recoded E. coli bacteria with an alternate genetic code that obstructs virus infections. The study shows that recoded cells conferred resistance to multiple viruses and can be broadly adopted in biotechnology applications for enhanced safety and stability of genetically modified organisms.

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