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Gerd Moe-Behrens's profile photoGary Johnson's profile photoAlec Wisner's profile photo
Synthetic Genetic Polymers Capable of Heredity and Evolution
Vitor B. Pinheiro, Alexander I. Taylor, Christopher Cozens, Mikhail Abramov, Marleen Renders, Su Zhang, John C. Chaput, Jesper Wengel, Sew-Yeu Peak-Chew, Stephen H. McLaughlin, Piet Herdewijn, Philipp Holliger
"Genetic information storage and processing rely on just two polymers, DNA and RNA, yet whether their role reflects evolutionary history or fundamental functional constraints is currently unknown. With the use of polymerase evolution and design, we show that genetic information can be stored in and recovered from six alternative genetic polymers based on simple nucleic acid architectures not found in nature [xeno-nucleic acids (XNAs)]. We also select XNA aptamers, which bind their targets with high affinity and specificity, demonstrating that beyond heredity, specific XNAs have the capacity for Darwinian evolution and folding into defined structures. Thus, heredity and evolution, two hallmarks of life, are not limited to DNA and RNA but are likely to be emergent properties of polymers capable of information storage."
A great Science paper. A step closer to orthogonal life - semantic containment. An option to engineer safety. However, xenobio do not solve all problems. We should be cautious when considering xenobiology as a biological firewall for the ultimate biosafety solution. Although the exchange of genetic information will be inhibited by design, other forms of interactions are still feasible. XNA organisms might still be able to interact with their natural counterpart on an ecological level. It has to be avoided, that xeno organisms alter habitats, food webs or on extreme wipe out the native population due to an evolutionary advantage. Moreover, it has to be avoided, that xeono organisms produce unintended toxic substances or other harmful metabolites.
It will be interesting to see, if this works in vivo.
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