Scientists create synthetic polymers capable of evolving

Source: Towards an Alternative Biology. Gerald F. Joyce, Science 336, 307 (72).

The question “what is life?” is not new. With the discovery of DNA structure, by Watson and Crick (1953), it was understood that the base of heredity is the DNA molecule, and the possibility that this would led Darwinian evolution of life. However, a recent paper published on Science Magazine (2012), Pinheiro and colleagues produced six new varieties of polymers capable of storing genetic information and evolve by natural selection, named XNAs. The researchers introduced instead of the “deoxyribose” other six molecules: the CeNA, the ANA, FANA, TNA, the LNA and HNA. This opens a new research field of “synthetic genetics”, and a better understanding of the origin of life. For example, probably life did not originate from the DNA molecule, but from a much simpler structure, as the TNA (T = threose) containing four carbon atoms and not six, such as deoxyribose . It also breaks the paradigm that if there is life on other planets, it must have the same basic principle as observed on this planet. What about the synthetic gene? This opens a possibility to produce new organisms more resistant to enzymatic degradation? That question brings us the words of Arthur Clarke, in the movie “2010 – Odyssey 2” when the computer HALL communicates to mankind: “All these worlds are yours. But beware. Except Europe. Attempts no landing there”.

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