Maastricht Economic and social Research and  training centre on Innovation and Technology

Rethinking Redistribution
For this edition of Alumni Watch, we caught up with Dr. Andres Mideros Mora of Ecuador, who graduated from the UNU-MERIT PhD programme earlier this month. He defended his thesis, 'Essays on the Economic Effects of Non-contributory Social Protection', while taking a short break from his role as Minister of Planning and Development of Ecuador.

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  • US scientists take step toward creating artificial life
    In a major step toward creating artificial life, researchers from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, have developed a living organism that incorporates both natural and artificial DNA and is capable of creating entirely new, synthetic proteins. The work brings scientists closer to the development of designer proteins made to order in a laboratory.

    Previous work by the team showed that it was possible to expand the genetic alphabet of natural DNA beyond its current four letters: adenine(A), cytosine(C), guanine (G) and thymine(T). In 2014, the researchers created a strain of E. coli bacteria that contained two unnatural letters, X and Y. In the latest work, they have shown that this partially synthetic form of E. coli can take instructions from this hybrid genetic alphabet to make new proteins.

    The creation of semi-synthetic organisms might raise concerns of hybrid life forms spreading beyond the lab, but according to the researchers the system they used makes such an escape unlikely.

    For example, in natural DNA, base pairs are attracted to each other through the bonding of hydrogen atoms. However, the X and Y bases are attracted through an entirely different process, which prevents them from accidentally bonding with natural bases. And because cells cannot make their own X and Y without the addition of certain chemicals, the semi-synthetic organisms cannot live outside of a laboratory.

    Reuters / Nature    November 29, 2017