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Future Thinking

Why reprogramming tiny life could reap rich rewards

Could we rebuild bacteria to create new kinds of food – or even the fuel we need for our cars? One scientist is working to make it reality – by tweaking bacterial DNA to fast-track evolution.

Humans have been tweaking nature’s genetic codes for thousands of years – just take the domestic dog, whose many breeds are the result of carefully selected breeding.

But could we be able to do it on a much smaller scale, and with more far-reaching results? Could we create new forms of life from simple bacteria, for instance, to produce the fuels we need to run our cars?

Professor Frances Arnold of the California Institute of Technology thinks we can. She believes that by redirecting the evolutionary process, scientists can create new forms of life to do all manner of things.  

Recent advances in molecular biology mean it is possible to manipulate DNA and, in effect, speed up the process of evolution. Some of our humblest lifeforms – bacteria and yeasts – could be reprogrammed in the factories of the future.

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