All of a sudden, DNA has no reason to feel special. For decades it seemed that only a handful of molecules could store genetic information and pass it on. But now synthetic biologists have discovered that six others can pull off the same trick, and there may be many more to find.
The ability to copy information from one molecule to another is fundamental to all life. Organisms pass their genes to their descendants, often with small changes, and as a result life can evolve over the generations. Barring a few exceptions, all known organisms use DNA as the information carrier.
A host of alternative nucleic acids have been made in labs over the years, but no one has made them work like DNA.
This problem has now been cracked. “This unique ability of DNA and RNA to encode information can be implemented in other backbones,” says Philipp Holliger of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK.
“Everyone thought we were limited to RNA and DNA,” says John Sutherlandof the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, who was not involved in the study. “This paper is a game-changer.”