Genetic information can be stored and retrieved from polymers “not found in nature”
Genetic information storage and processing rely on just two polymers, DNA and RNA. Whether their role reflects evolutionary history or fundamental functional constraints is unknown. Using polymerase evolution and design, we show that genetic information can be stored in and recovered from six alternative genetic polymers (XNAs) based on simple nucleic acid architectures not found in nature. 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 for 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.
The nucleic acids DNA and RNA provide the molecular basis for all life through their unique ability to store and propagate information. To better understand these singular properties and discover relevant parameters for the chemical basis of molecular information encoding, nucleic acid structure has been dissected by systematic variation of nucleobase, sugar and backbone moieties (1-7).
These studies have revealed the profound influence of backbone, sugar and base chemistry on nucleic acid properties and function. Crucially, only a small subset of chemistries allows information transfer through base pairing with DNA or RNA, a prerequisite for crosstalk with extant biology. However, base pairing alone cannot conclusively determine the capacity of a given chemistry to serve as a genetic system, as hybridization need not preserve information content (8). A more thorough examination of candidate genetic polymers’ potential for information storage, propagation and evolution requires a system for replication which would allow a systematic exploration of the informational, evolutionary and functional potential of synthetic genetic polymers and open up applications ranging from biotechnology to material science. …Continue