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Synthetic biology used to de-extinct plants to manufacture perfume.

In the film, Jurassic Park scientists revive dinosaurs by extracting DNA from drops of blood fossilized within insects trapped in amber.  They then decode the genetic sequence, fill in gaps using the frog genome, and inject the genetic material into ostrich eggs to make long-extinct dinosaurs. Now, researchers from Gingko Bioworks, manufacture a perfume using floral scents that have been missing from nature for over a century.  The team states they used damaged samples to reconstruct DNA from the long-extinct Hawaiian mountain hibiscus, substituting modern plant DNA to fill in the missing pieces, and yeast cells as stand-ins for eggs.  The study is not yet published, however, the team recently released an opensource study in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology on DNA constructs.

Previous studies show researchers have expressed DNA from Neanderthal remains in monkey cells to better understand hair and skin pigmentation in our long-lost hominid cousins and inserted woolly mammoth genes into human cells to study how the extinct Siberian beast survived so well in the extreme cold.  With regards, to automated perfume making, IBM announced its researchers are working on an artificial intelligence platform with the capability to learns how to create previously unknown scent profiles, with the first two AI-developed perfumes expected to hit the market in mid-2019.  The current study develops a scent whose fragrance is derived from the Hawaiian mountain hibiscus flower thought to have vanished from the dry-land forests of Maui in the early 1910s.

The current study reconstructs terpenes, the compounds responsible for odor, from Falls-of-the-Ohio scurfpea, the Wynberg conebush, and the Hawaiian mountain hibiscus, recorded as disappearing from the planet in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Results show 2000 gene variants from the extinct plant samples were engineered using DNA from modern plants to fill the gaps in the genetic code. Data findings show yeast cells successfully trigger gene expression to produce terpene molecules.

The lab states the terpene profiles were then mixed and matched into a few pleasant-smelling arrangements, and the engineered yeast cells responsible for making those desired terpenes were then fermented in vats for mass production.  They go on to add even though they have produced a truly timeless commercial product, it’s intended more as an art project than one to rival those by Tom Ford, Chanel, and Dior.

The team surmises they have used synthetic biology to de-extinct the Hawaiian mountain hibiscus, substituting the DNA from modern plants to fill in any gaps in the plant’s damaged genetic sequence to produce perfume.  For the future, the researchers state their process to reactivate extinct enzymes and harvest their chemical bounty at scale shows the immense potential of synthetic biology and genome engineering.

Source: IEEE Spectrum

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