Synthetic doubling of life’s DNA alphabet suggests there’s nothing ‘magical’ about life on Earth

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Image credit: K. Irvine/NIST

The DNA of life on Earth naturally stores its information in just four key chemicals — guanine, cytosine, adenine and thymine, commonly referred to as G, C, A and T, respectively.

Now scientists have doubled this number of life’s building blocks, creating for the first time a synthetic, eight-letter genetic language that seems to store and transcribe information just like natural DNA.

In a study published on 22 February in Science, a consortium of researchers led by Steven Benner, founder of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Alachua, Florida, suggests that an expanded genetic alphabet could, in theory, also support life.

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The study implies that there is nothing particularly “magic” or special about those four chemicals that evolved on Earth, says [Floyd Romesberg, a chemical biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California.]

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[T]he latest study is the first to systematically demonstrate that the complementary unnatural bases recognise and bind to each other, and that the double helix that they form holds its structure.

[T]he work shows that life could potentially be supported by DNA bases with different structures from the four that we know, which could be relevant in the search for signatures of life elsewhere in the Universe.

Read full, original post: Four new DNA letters double life’s alphabet

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