Mailbox: Real life Spider-man

Can you mix human and spider DNA
14 January 2020




On Facebook we received a question from Andre Peter F. He wanted to know if you can combine human and and spider DNA. Adam Murphy asked Chris Smith if that could be done...

Chris - The answer is, well, he could, but it might not actually be useful. The reason you can move genes from one organism like a spider to another organism like a human, is because the genetic code is universal. Because we all owe our existence to a form of life that evolved billions of years ago and gave rise to all of the life on Earth and it used DNA, the genetic code it used to store its genetic information has been passed into every single one of its descendants, and that means that the program and the code that's used to encode information in DNA means the same to a spider cell as it does to a human cell with a few minor differences. Even to a fungal cell or a bacterial cell. So we can take a gene from one organism and put it into another organism and the cell would understand it. Whether it would actually make useful things in that, it might not do anything. But this certainly can work in principle. And the best example of this is that years ago scientists discovered, and in fact someone got the Nobel prize for, the discovery of a protein called GFP, green fluorescent protein. This comes from jellyfish. If you take that protein out of a jellyfish and you add it to say a mouse cell, that mouse cell will read the gene, produce green fluorescent protein, and you can make mouse cells that glow bright green. In fact, if you put that into a mouse egg and make a mouse baby from that egg, you can end up with a whole mouse that will glow green under the right circumstances. So the answer is you could do this with spider DNA, but you couldn't make a Spiderman because the spider and the human are thankfully really quite different things.


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