Life without DNA or RNA? – Scientists Develop Enzymes from Artificial Genetic Materials

In Biology it’s strongly believed that DNA and RNA are the keys in origin of life as these molecules represent the materials needed for Enzyme production. DNA also shows the ability to form Enzymes in vitro. 

In a recent research a group of scientists have been able to develop Enzymes using artificial genetic materials that do not available in nature. The team from MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge says these Enzymes called XNAzymes too have the capabilities of normal naturally occurring enzymes and the artificial nucleic acids or the XNAs can store and pass on genetic information just like DNA and RNA do.

The research is published in the journal Nature and promises to offer new insights into the origins of life, as well as providing a potential starting point for an entirely new generation of drugs and diagnostics. In addition, the authors speculate that the study increases the range of planets that could potentially host life.

Philipp Holliger who led this team says “Our work with XNA shows that there’s no fundamental imperative for RNA and DNA to be prerequisites for life,”

 

This new type of nucleic acid too contains all the natural bases- adenine, thymine, guanine, cytosine and uracil- which are found in DNA and RNA. But in XNAs different sugar or other molecules have been used instead of Deoxyribose and Ribose sugar molecules.

 

According to Nobel prizewinner Jack Szostak who is studying Origin of Life on Earth this finding will be a great opportunity to expand our understanding of the formation early life on earth.

Speaking to “The New Scientist” Holliger says that XNAs may also have roles to play in medicine. Because they do not occur naturally, they can’t be broken down in the human body. And since they can be designed to break and destroy RNA, they could work as drugs for treating RNA viruses or disabling RNA messages that trigger cancers.

“We’ve made XNA enzymes that cut RNA at specific sites, so you could make therapies for cleaving viral or oncogenic messenger RNA,” says Holliger. “And because they can’t be degraded, they could give long-lasting protection.”

Journal reference: Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature13982

Image Credit – A. Taylor (http://www.cam.ac.uk/)