Researchers Create Synthetic DNA/RNA That Can Evolve

Posted: April 20, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Researchers have created artificial genetic material known as Xenonucleic acids, or XNAs, that can store information and evolve over generations in a comparable way to DNA.

The research, reported Friday in the journal Science, has implications for the fields of molecular medicine and biotechnology, and sheds new light on how molecules first replicated and assembled into life billions of years ago.

Living systems owe their existence to the information-carrying molecules DNA and RNA. These fundamental chemical forms have two features essential for life: they display heredity, meaning they can encode and pass on genetic information, and they can adapt over time.

Whether these traits could be performed by molecules other than DNA and RNA has been a long-debated issue.

For the current study, an international team of researchers developed chemical procedures to convert DNA and RNA into six genetic polymers known as XNAs. The process switches the deoxyribose and ribose (the d and r in DNA and RNA) for other molecules.

The researchers demonstrated for the first time that all six XNAs could form a double helix with DNA, and were more stable than natural genetic material. Moreover, one of these XNAs, a molecule known as anhydrohexitol nucleic acid, or HNA, was capable of undergoing directed evolution and folding into biologically useful forms.

Philipp Holliger of MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, the studys senior author, said the work demonstrated that heredity and evolution were possible using alternatives to natural genetic material.

There is nothing Goldilocks about DNA and RNA, he told Science.

There is no overwhelming functional imperative for genetic systems or biology to be based on these two nucleic acids.

Both RNA and DNA embed data in their sequences of four nucleotides. This information is vital for conferring hereditary traits and for supplying the coded recipe essential for building proteins from the 20 naturally occurring amino acids. However, precisely how and when this system began remains one of the most perplexing and hotly contested areas of biology.

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Researchers Create Synthetic DNA/RNA That Can Evolve

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