Scientists Build Self-Replicating Molecule

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Living things self-replicate, but artificial materials generally don’t. At least not until now.

New York University researchers led by Paul Chaikin have found a way to use synthetic DNA to make molecules that reproduce themselves. The technique gives scientists a tool to create different combinations on the DNA that aren't necessarily available in nature. That opens up billions of possibilities for building completely new materials and even molecular machines. Chaikin and his colleaques reported their results in this week's journal Nature.

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Inside a living cell, enzymes split DNA's ladder-like double helix molecule down the middle, leaving two single strings of nucleotides. The enzymes then tack on new nucleotides to each half in order to create an identical copy. Where there was one double helix of DNA, there is two. The cell then uses the copied DNA to perform a biological function such as build a protein, for example. This replication is crucial to a lifeform's ability to exist and survive.

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In this case, the researchers created two slightly different molecular “tiles,” each one made of 10 strands of DNA.

Next, they seeded a solution of with a string of seven tiles. The string catalyzed in the solution and instructed the molecules to form a complementary seven-tile sequence — a duplicate of the original. This "offspring" was then used to create a subsequent duplicate.

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As New Scientist reporter David Shiga put it:

Although these particular strings were designed as a proof of principle, without any practical application in mind, the technique could allow more useful structures to be rapidly and easily grown, says Chaikin's colleague Ned Seeman. Other molecules, with useful or novel properties, could be attached to the DNA tiles. The DNA itself would act as a scaffold, arranging the other molecules into the desired structure, and then later creating more and more copies.

Via: New York University

Image: Nature / Nadrian Seeman