Researchers Brought Back a Pox Virus Using Mail-Order DNA and it Only Cost $100,000
Reviving Extinct Viruses
Canadian researchers revived an extinct horsepox virus last year on a shoestring budget, by using mail-order DNA. That may not seem like a big deal, until you consider that this relatively inexpensive technique could be used by anyone — perhaps even to bring back something like smallpox, one of the most feared diseases in humanity’s history. The team’s research — which remains unpublished — was intended to create better vaccines and even cancer treatments.
Though David Evans of the University of Alberta, the research lead, admitted that he also undertook the project to prove that it could be done. And, that it wouldn’t necessarily require a lot of time, money, and even biomedical skill or knowledge. As he told Science, “The world just needs to accept the fact that you can do this and now we have to figure out what is the best strategy for dealing with that.” Thus reigniting a powerful debate in the biomedical science community.
The researchers bought overlapping DNA fragments from a commercial synthetic DNA company. Each fragment was about 30,000 base pairs long, and because they overlapped, the team was able to “stitch” them together to complete the genome of the 212,000-base-pair horsepox virus. When they introduced the genome into cells that were already infected with a different kind of poxvirus, the cells began to produce virus particles of the infectious horsepox variety. While horsepox doesn’t infect humans, other pox viruses do: and if the technique works to recreate one kind of pox virus, it could likely work for others as well. This technique was first demonstrated by another group of researchers in a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper in 2002.
The idea that it would someday be possible to synthesize poxviruses is nothing new. In 2002, virologists assembled the poliovirus from scratch.....MORE