Friday, December 2, 2016

Synthetic Biology Techniques Provide New Vaccine Method

Within the field of synthetic biology, there is a development where cells or other particles can be altered such that they operate on slightly different mechanisms than the purely natural versions.  This is done with respect to amino acids, the key components that form proteins, which then form and catalyze a-majority of the functions in an organism.  In this case, human cells make use of 20 specific amino acids for various functions, but researchers are now looking how this specific factor can be utilized for new breakthroughs.  One such breakthrough has been made by a team of researchers at Peking University in China in regards to these artificial amino acids and viruses.  The research team first began by taking the concept of partially synthesizing particles based upon the artificial amino acids and had managed to create virus particles that were exact copies of the wild type, but functioned slightly differently.  When it comes to virology this is very important, especially in regards to vaccine development. 

It is a general characteristic that most modern vaccines are altered or attenuated to some degree, by various methods such as heat or chemicals, however, in making such a change the vaccine may have a slightly lower efficacy.  This is due to the idea that the altered virus particles in the vaccine are not exact versions of the wild type and could potentially result in a less effective immune stimulation and future immunity.  This is where the researchers connected the potential of the exact, functioning copies of the wild virus with the idea for a better vaccine with a higher efficacy while not compromising for safety.  By utilizing the new partially synthetic virus in the human host, the particles were unable to replicate effectively due to the lack in the artificial amino acids that are not found in human cells, thus rendering the virus as accurate as possible without the risk of reversion.  Another interesting trait of these virus particles is that they possess the ability to block the function and replication cycle of other, actual wild type virus in the cell.  This mechanism functions by interfering directly in the assembly of new particle genomes, since the altered particle looks and acts just like the wild type, the process draws segments from both particles effectively neutralizing any formed with the contaminated genomes.  This breakthrough offers a new avenue for vaccine research and development, and could potentially have a significant impact on how we develop vaccines in the future as the abilities of synthetic biology rapidly develop.

-Ethan Wentworth

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