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Reprograming life? Gamechanger DNA could revolutionize medicine, help us find aliens

Reprograming life? Gamechanger DNA could revolutionize medicine, help us find aliens
With the development of a new form of DNA, scientists have pushed the boundaries of what's possible and reframed our understanding of the fundamental code that underlies all life, including potential extraterrestrial life.

Researchers at the NASA-funded Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution have created a new form of the DNA double helix with an additional four nucleotides dubbed ‘hachimoji DNA’ (from the Japanese words for ‘eight letters’).

DNA code, which makes up all biology and chemistry observed by mankind, consists of the nucleotides or ‘letters’: adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G) and cytosine (C).

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Now, we have the new, artificial ‘letters’ labeled P, B, Z and S that introduce dozens of new chemical parameters that, in turn, generate thousands of potential genetic templates that didn’t previously exist.

So what?

Advocates of the technology say that, as a species, we need to test the limits of DNA to try and predict just how far life can evolve.

This will help us defeat incurable diseases and viruses in the future here on Earth, as well as assisting in our search for extraterrestrial elsewhere in the solar system and wider universe.

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It could also help us store vast amounts of archival data better than our current silicon-based storage, thanks to the nascent DNA storage industry, while also potentially allowing us to reprogram life using a different genetic code base, in our effort to build new kinds of nanostructures.

“By carefully analyzing the roles of shape, size and structure in hachimoji DNA, this work expands our understanding of the types of molecules that might store information in extraterrestrial life on alien worlds,”explained chemist Steven Benner.

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“We can do everything here that is necessary for life,” Benner added. The researcher’s paper was published Thursday in the journal Science. There are also more ‘letters’ awaiting testing – ‘K’ and ‘X,’ yielding even more possibilities if they can form stable double helices.

“An expanded alphabet gives you the opportunity to make bigger, better, stronger, faster things in general,”said Andrew Ellington, a biochemist at the University of Texas.

In early tests, researchers made RNA derived from the hachimoji DNA which can seek out and bind to liver tumors and breast cancer cells in a petri dish, already showing promise in expediting cancer detection.

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