Two million years ago life looked like this. Four billion years ago it was a different story.
The information in DNA can be copied into new molecules without proteins’ help.
Chemists have reproduced the basic process of information transfer central to all life without the catalysts that facilitate it in living cells1.
They show that DNA alone can pass its message on to subsequent generations. Many researchers believe that DNA-like molecules acted thus to get life started about four billion years ago - before catalytic proteins existed to help DNA to replicate.
History repeats itself
Synthetic self-replicating molecules have been made in the lab at least three times before. But in all these cases the replicating molecules were given a substantial helping hand.
Before, each molecule acted as a template on which its copy was constructed from two ready-made halves. In other words most of the information in the copy was present already in the fragments from which it was made. It was rather like reproducing the information in this sentence simply by pasting it together from two already-written halves.
In contrast, Lynn and colleagues paste each letter in place, one by one. They make, not a copy, but a complementary molecule, containing the same information but in a different code. It is rather like making a copy of one of these sentences but translated into French.
In the cell, DNA itself contains two such complementary molecules, each one a chain of molecular units, stuck together in the double helix. When DNA replicates before a cell divides, these complementary strands part and each acts as a template to guide the synthesis of a fresh strand.
Each DNA strand contains all the information needed to make a new strand. There are four different kinds of molecular unit, and the sequence of these along the strand determines the sequence of units assembled in the new strand. Enzymes drive this assembly process.
Lynn’s group has found a way to do without the enzymes, so that a single strand of DNA can act as a template for the assembly of its complementary strand. Scientists have achieved this before, but imperfectly: only one of the four types of DNA unit acted as a template, and the complementary strand wasn’t always the same length as the template.
The Emory group uses a new trick to join the components together on a DNA template. The chemical links between successive units in the new strand aren’t like those in DNA itself. Instead they are amide linkages, like those that unite proteins’ molecular units, which are also chain-like molecules laden with information. This makes the assembly of the new strand more accurate.
Amide-linked DNA chains can help units of true DNA to join together. So the researchers hope to achieve the reverse process of templating DNA using amide-linked DNA. This might then enable the two kinds of molecule to support their mutual replication, allowing the possibility of molecular evolution and the appearance of life-like complexity.
PHILIP BALL | © Nature News Service
One step closer to reality
20.04.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Entwicklungsbiologie
The dark side of cichlid fish: from cannibal to caregiver
20.04.2018 | Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien
University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.
Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.
Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.
Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...
Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.
The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...
Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.
Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...
In the fight against cancer, scientists are developing new drugs to hit tumor cells at so far unused weak points. Such a “sore spot” is the protein complex...
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
09.04.2018 | Event News
20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
20.04.2018 | Interdisciplinary Research
20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy