LIFE-A FIRST IN TEST TUBE
By Earl Ubell
At the start, the vials and flasks contained only inanimate molecules. When the scientists finished their stirring and mixing, the molecules, in a new arrangement, had sprung to life. The new molecules could infect living matter as a virus does. They could multiply inside living cells.
“You could say we synthesized life in the test tube,” Dr. Sol Spiegelman, the chief scientist, said.
The scientific implications of the discovery are far-reaching. Since the molecules involved are of a type that are crucial to all living chemistry—they control, among other things heredity—scientists will now be able to study them in detail: how they are formed, how they do their work, how to stop their action, how to start their action.
On the practical side, any information about such substances cannot help but add to knowledge in the field of cancer, control of heredity, and the control of virus diseases.
Of course, some scientists will argue whether the molecules are really alive. Like viruses, they cannot express their lifelike qualities outside of another living thing. But one thing is sure: Dr. Spiegelman and his fellow biochemists are the first to produce an infectious molecule outside a living system. Others have tried for a decade and failed.
Specifically, Dr. Spiegelman and his associates at the University of Illinois at Urbana worked with a type of molecule known as ribonucleic acid (RNA). It is found, among many other places in the biological world, in a number of viruses. In fact, viruses are nothing but ultramicroscopic bundles of nucleic acid wrapped up in a coat of protein, another molecule. When a virus goes to work on a living cell, it injects the RNA into the cell. The RNA somehow usurps the chemical machinery of the cell and forces it to turn out more RNA and an outer coating, which then combine to form new viruses. Other scientists have extracted RNA from viruses and used it to cause infections as if the whole virus were present.
The virus RNA also causes the (HARD TO READ) to create special (?) called enzymes which manufacture more (?)
Dr. Spiegelman (contracted?) one of these enzymes from a sewage bacterium known as E. Coli which had been infected with a virus known as Q-Beta. It took him three years to turn that enzyme into a pure chemical.
Then the professor concocted a broth containing the enzyme called replicase, the constituent parts of ribonucleic acid, plus a pinch of infectious RNA of the Q-Beta virus. After an ice bath, the test tubes contained a billion times more of the infectious RNA.
“You cannot say we created living matter,” Dr. Spiegelman said. “Technically, we synthesized it because we started out with a little bit at the beginning.”
The new molecules behaved just the way the Q-Beta RNA did. They infected the sewage bacteria; they turned out more Q-Beta viruses.
The discovery is but one step. In an animal cell RNA of a particular type controls the production of new protein and new enzymes. RNA is produced in (???) named deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). It itself (?) on from generation to generation of cells and of all living things: it is the carrier of the hereditary information of species and races.
Therefore, that step of biologically making active RNA foreshadows the day when scientists will synthesize biologically active DNA as well, and with that, they will be able to lay bare the entire mechanism of heredity, health and disease.
Working with Dr. Spiegelman, a New Yorker and a graduate of CCNY were Dr. Ichiro Haruna, Dr. George S. Beaudreau ( ?), Dr. Ian B. Holland, and Donald R Mills. The announcement was made yesterday in the Journal of the National Academy of Sciences. The academy is the leading scientific body in the United States.
LIFE-A FIRST IN TEST TUBE