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
Newly designed molecule binds nitrogen
23.02.2018 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Atomic Design by Water
23.02.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung GmbH
A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.
In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...
A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.
By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...
Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy