Scientists have created artificial genetic material that can store information and evolve over generations in a similar way to DNA – a feat expected to drive research in medicine and biotechnology, and shed light on how molecules first replicated and assembled into life billions of years ago.
Ultimately, the creation of alternatives to DNA could enable scientists to make novel forms of life in the laboratory.
Researchers at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, in Cambridge, developed chemical procedures to turn DNA and RNA, the molecular blueprints for all known life, into six alternative genetic polymers called XNAs.
The process swaps the deoxyribose and ribose (the “d” and “r” in DNA and RNA) for other molecules. It was found the XNAs could form a double helix with DNA and were more stable than natural genetic material.
In the journal Science the researchers describe how they caused one of the XNAs to stick to a protein, an ability that might mean the polymers could be deployed as drugs working like antibodies.
DNA and RNA have been turned into alternative genetic polymers called XNAs by researchers in Cambridge. Photograph: Mopic/Alamy