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Scientists alter the genetic code of a living being for the first time

The pathogenic fungus Candida albicans is one of several microorganisms with the unusual ability to make multiple amino acids (the constituents of proteins) from the same three "letter" DNA code (called a codon). This ability breaks one of the rules of the genetic code, whereby each DNA codon codes for only one amino acid. In the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Science -USA (PNAS), Manuel dos Santos and his team from the University of Aveiro have recreated in the laboratory what the fungus Candida albicans can do in nature: alter its genetic code so that from the CUG codon it produces the amino acid leucine instead of serine. This is the first time that the genetic code of a living being has been altered in the laboratory. Surprisingly, the genetically altered fungi reveal a remarkable ability to adapt to different environments, to resist antimycotics and to induce immune and inflammatory responses in infected mice. This research, funded by FCT and by a European project of the 7th Framework Programme, helps to understand how the manipulation of the genetic code of fungi and other micro-organisms can be used to combat drug resistance and applied in biotechnology and medicine.