The ability for humans to create synthetic or artificial life looks to be a stage closer, with recent lab experiments finding that a synthetic version of DNA and RNA can undergo directed evolution.
Newly created synthetic compounds called XNAs (xeno–nucleic acids) are able to store and copy genetic data, a new study has found. These compounds can then be directed to evolve in the lab environment.
The research team, headed by Vitor Pinheiro of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, created XNA building blocks to six various genetic systems by replacing the natural sugar component of DNA with one of six different polymers, which are synthetic chemical compounds.
The researchers then evolved enzymes that can make XNA from DNA, and other enzymes that can change XNA back into DNA. This process allowed for the development of artificial heredity. Genetic sequences could be copied and passed down over and over.
Finally, the researchers worked out that one of the XNA polymers, HNA, could respond to selective test tube pressure. The pressured HNA evolved into different forms. According to the study, this shows that specific XNAs have the “capacity for Darwinian evolution”, and that “heredity and evolution, two of hallmarks of life, are not limited to DNA and RNA”.
One of the study’s co-author’s, John Chaput of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona Sate University, has said of the experiments involving XNAs that, all of their actions are “completely controlled by experimentalists, it’s 100 percent unnatural”.
Does this mean we could eventually see a viable replacement for oil created? (see: Viable Oil Replacement Must Be Synthetic, Not From Nature, Ventor Says). Or, how about just the proverbial cat that pees carpet freshener? The mind boggles.