NASA-Funded Scientists Create Synthetic 8-Base 'Alien' DNA, Proving That Life Could Have Different Rules

Friday, 22 February 2019 - 2:31PM
Weird Science
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Friday, 22 February 2019 - 2:31PM
NASA-Funded Scientists Create Synthetic 8-Base 'Alien' DNA, Proving That Life Could Have Different Rules
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A team of Florida-based researchers have created a strand of DNA that changes much of what we thought we knew about the limits of biology as they relate to the genetic coding of life. Physics World reported today that the research team, led by Stephen Benner of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution and funded by NASA, successfully built a DNA double helix with an additional "twist:" it possesses an extra four nucleotide bases. The scientists have named it Hachimoji DNA, based on the Japanese words for "eight letters," referring to the total number of nucleotide bases represented alphabetically. Their findings were published in Science.


For those of you who slept through biology class, DNA molecules are made up of paired chemical "building blocks" –adenine (a), cytosine (c), guanine (g), and thymine (t) – called nucleotides that are found throughout life on Earth. Hachimoji DNA differs in that it contains not only those nucleotides, but an additional set of four pairs of synthetic chemicals – two paired analogues of purine (p, b) and pyrimidine (z, s) – that also have the ability to store genetic information. 


Although Hachimoji's nucleotides are reliant on a lab environment for their chemistry, the fact that these strands could exist at all point to the possibility of life existing on planets – or anywhere – where different building blocks exist... and the necessity of having the tools to find it. In an interview with The Independent, acting director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, Lori Glaze said that "life detection is an increasingly important goal of NASA's planetary science missions, and this new work will help us to develop effective instruments and experiments that will expand the scope of what we look for."


As far as gene expression or what a creature possessing this DNA might look like, that remains uncertain. For those of you hoping for a freak mishap that results in the takeover of Earth by hyperintelligent gene monsters, you may be disappointed. Because of Hachimoji's reliance on synthetic chemicals, it couldn't survive outside. According to Benner, "hachimoji DNA can go nowhere if it escapes the laboratory."
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