Information storage capabilities are key in most aspects of society and the requirement for storage capacity is rapidly expanding. In principle, DNA could be a high-density medium for information storage. Church and coworkers recently demonstrated how binary data can be encoded, stored in, and retrieved from a library of oligonucleotides, increasing by several orders of magnitude the amount and density of manmade information stored in DNA to date. The technology remains in its infancy and important hurdles have yet to be overcome in order to realize its potential. However, DNA may be particularly useful as a storage-medium over long time-scales (centuries), because data-access is compatible with any large-scale DNA-sequencing and -synthesis technology.
DNA; information storage in DNA; bit; byte; binary encoding
The recent claim by Wolfe-Simon et al. that the Halomonas bacterial strain GFAJ-1 when grown in arsenate-containing medium with limiting phosphate is able to substitute phosphate with arsenate in biomolecules including nucleic acids and in particular DNA1 arose much skepticism, primarily due to the very limited chemical stability of arsenate esters (see ref. 2 and references therein). A major part of the criticisms was concerned with the insufficient (bio)chemical evidence in the Wolfe-Simon study for the actual chemical incorporation of arsenate in DNA (and/or RNA). Redfield et al. now present evidence that the identification of arsenate DNA was artifactual.
arsenate; bacteria; DNA; genetic material; life
A DNA capsule fitted with aptamer controlled target sensing has been “woven” using a 7308-base single-stranded DNA “thread” and 196 staple oligonucleotides. The capsule enables logic-gated molecular cargo delivery to targeted cell surfaces.
aptamer; delivery; DNA origami; nanocapsule; nanoscience
A recent paper in Science by Li et al. 20111 reports widespread sequence differences in the human transcriptome between RNAs and their encoding genes termed RNA-DNA differences (RDDs). The findings could add a new layer of complexity to gene expression but the study has been criticized.
gene expression; RNA editing; RNA-DNA differences; transcription; transcriptome
Prominent current ideas on how life emerged on Earth include an RNA world hypothesis in which RNA performed informational as well as catalytic functions in the absence of both DNA and protein. Demonstration of a self-replicative system based on ribonucleic acid polymers as both information carriers and catalysts would lend support to such a scenario. A pivotal component of this system would be an RNA dependent RNA polymerase ribozyme capable of replicating its own RNA gene. Recent work from the Holliger group at the Laboratory for Molecular Biology in Cambridge has provided synthetic ribozymes1 that just might foreshadow the future engineering of such self-replicative systems.
ribozyme; RNA dependent RNA polymerase; In vitro evolution; RNA engineering; transcription
The recent paper by Wolfe-Simon et al.1 reporting a bacterial strain, which is able to grow in high concentrations of arsenate, apparently in the absence of phosphate, and claims that in this strain arsenate is substituting for phosphate, e.g. in nucleic acids (Figure 1), was highly profiled, attracted broad attention, and almost immediately resulted in heavy scientific criticism (see e.g. 2–7).
Arsenate; DNA; evolution; origin of life; bacteria
A recent claim is discussed that Watson-Crick pairs in the naked duplex DNA spontaneously flip into Hoogsteen pairs under ordinary conditions. The claim is considered within the historical retrospective and is put into the broader context of DNA biophysics.
duplex DNA breathing; hoogsteen base pairs; DNA structure; DNA motility
A strategy for the enrichment of a DNA template that encodes a functionalized PNA oligomer is discussed. The method relies on iterated cycles of chemical translation (of the template into PNA), selection (for function), and amplification (of the survivors). Potential restrictions and future perspectives are considered.
chemical evolution; selection; enrichment; DNA template
Using LNA in situ hybridization, select mRNAs have been shown to be spatially confined to their chromosomal loci in two distantly related bacterial organisms. Translating ribosomes are diffusion limited by mRNA association.
mRNA spatial distribution; locked nucleic acid (LNA); fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH)
The University of Texas researchers have recently discovered that small synthetic RNAs (sRNAs) that are complementary to sequences located 3′-outside of genes can efficiently modulate gene expression. These new findings significantly expand the transcription-regulatory potential of sRNAs, and they also may provide useful leads for other artificial nucleobase oligomers to target sequences beyond the 3′ termini of mRNA.
small RNAs; 3′ non-coding transcripts; gene expression modulation; DNA looping; peptide nucleic acid (PNA)
The terms “natural,” “synthetic” and “artificial” are discussed in relation to synthetic and artificial chromosomes and genomes, synthetic and artificial cells and artificial life.
synthetic chromosomes; synthetic cells; artificial cells; artificial life