Scientists are working on new gene engineering method that could eventually allow us to grow our own organs for transplants.

A team of researchers from the University of Southampton in the UK are working with colleagues from the University of Oxford and DNA synthesis firm ATDBio to propose a new method that could surpass current limitations.

Although it is possible to make an organisms’ genome, as well as its genetic structure from scratch it has only been done in tiny bacterial genomes and in a small portion of a yeast genome. We are limited due to dependence genomes have on enzymes.

In a study published in the journal Nature Chemistry, the researchers presented a purely chemical technique for gene assembly. It uses an efficient and rapid-acting chemical reaction called click chemistry that puts together multiple modified DNA fragments into a gene, a process known as click DNA ligation.

In a press release, lead researcher and University of Southampton Chemical Biology Professor, explained, “Our approach is a significant breakthrough in gene synthesis. Not only have we demonstrated assembly of a gene using click-chemistry, we have also shown that the resulting strand of DNA is fully functional in bacteria, despite the scars formed by joining fragments.”

As always, dealing with such practicalities brings with it a number of ethical considerations. According to GP-Write, an international effort working on engineering large genomes, applications of DNA synthesis include growing transplantable human organs from scratch, engineering viral immunity and cancer resistance, and even allowing for more efficient and cost-effective drug development and testing.  

There is no denying that synthetic DNA is extremely promising. If used, we could be looking at better ways to treat DNA-based diseases, or even have the ability to edit them out altogether. Tavassoli added, “Genome synthesis will play an increasingly important role in scientific research.”

Current methods suffer with the extensive use of enzymes which can’t be incorporated into certain sites that control the expression of genes. The epigenetic information could be crucial in better understanding biological processes.

Co-author, Tom Brown, concluded, “The synthesis of chemically modified genes, which we have achieved by a radical new approach, will become ever more important as the effects of epigenetically modified DNA on gene expression become clear.”