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Crop Biotech Update

Scientists Develop Artificial DNA

April 27, 2012

Xenonucleic Acid or XNA is said to be able to copy DNA and RNA – the main genetic languages of almost all organisms. DNA is made up of nucleic acid bases (A, C, G, and T) with a backbone made up of phosphates and sugar deoxyribose while the XNA carries the same nucleic acid bases but with a backbone made up of different sugars. Though they have found this to be possibly very useful in experiments and biomedical applications, they find it difficult to make them in large quantities.

The team, led by Philipp Holliger, a synthetic biologist at the UK Medical Research Council's Laboratory of Molecular Biology, have "engineered enzymes that helped six types of XNA to assemble and replicate genetic messages". These enzymes had at least 95% accuracy in transcription of DNA to XNA and back. One of their tests also showed that some of these XNAs are capable of undergoing processes "akin to evolution". Holliger notes that these results confirm that replication, heredity, and evolution are possible in these alternative backbones.

Biochemist Steven Benner and other researchers have replicated polymers with extra artificial nucleic acid bases on backbone made up of phosphates and sugar deoxyribose. These synthetic nucleic acid bases are said to be possible components for chemical degradation resistant DNA and RNA.

Although XNAs still depend on DNA-derived enzymes for replication, Holliger shares that these new alternative molecules can help experts develop new drugs and nanotechnologies.