XNA: Synthetic DNA Can Evolve

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DNA — you know the stuff that makes up all life forms? — now has copycats. XNAs are what scientists are calling the synthetic genes that can do everything DNA can. BBC explains.

"The classic double-helix structure of DNA and RNA are like a twisted ladder, where the steps are made from paired nucleobases. Philipp Holliger of the UK Medical Research Council's Laboratory of Molecular Biology and a team of colleagues created six different ... xeno-nucleic acids, or XNAs - by replacing not the nucleobases but the sugar groups that make up the sides of the ladder."

A major step in the research was creating enzymes that could copy a gene from DNA to XNA, and other enzymes to copy it back into DNA.

The XNAs can store genetic info, replicate and most importantly evolve just like DNA and RNA. The Guardian says it's...

"...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."

And io9 says there are more implications than new lifeforms — the study also might reveal the origins of life.

"In the past, investigations into XNA have been largely driven by the question of whether simpler genetic systems may have existed before the emergence of RNA and DNA; the fact that these XNAs appear to be capable of evolution adds to an ever-growing body of evidence of a genetic system predating DNA and RNA both."

A writer for LiveMint.com says there could be risks involved with XNAs.

"It is widely held that the creation of synthetic life forms would mean the creation of biological robots that could find use as biofuels, genetically modified plants, as well as medicines that could be employed to solve a wide variety of problems, many of which are unfathomable now.
On the other hand, there are enough bioethical concerns already being raised on whether these improperly understood forms of life may cause potential harm."

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