The Polio Genome
A genome is the genetic material of an organism. In 1981, two different research groups, Vincent Racaniello and David Baltimore at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Eckard Wimmer’s team at State University of New York, Stony Brook, published the poliovirus genome. They used an enzyme to switch the single strands of viral ribonucleic acid—RNA—to double strands of deoxyribonucleic acid—DNA—and then determined the sequence of adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine encoding the five molecules that are the substance of the virus’s existence.
Poliovirus lacks the ability to correct its mutations, so its genome evolves at one to two nucleotide substitutions per week. It is always changing.
In 2002, investigators at the State University of New York in Stony Brook used the published genetic sequence to synthesize a DNA version of poliovirus. Then they used an enzyme to convert the DNA to RNA and grew the virus in a cell-free extract. Animal tests showed that the synthesized poliovirus caused paralysis.
Who Needs Synthesized Poliovirus?
Viruses like polio, Ebola, and smallpox can never be eradicated because they can be created in the lab with a DNA synthesizer and the genetic code. Synthetically made viruses have the potential for both harm and good. Biological weapons can be created from them. But they might be altered to create new vaccines or novel systems to deliver genes as therapy.