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Eight-Letter DNA

Dien, Vivian T., Holcomb, Matthew, Romesberg, Floyd E.
Biochemistry 2019 v.58 no.22 pp. 2581-2583
DNA, DNA-directed RNA polymerase, RNA, biopolymers, mutants, nucleobases, synthetic biology, thermodynamics, transcription (genetics)
Steve Benner and collaborators have recently reported an analysis of DNA containing eight nucleotide letters, the four natural letters (dG, dC, dA, and dT) and four additional letters (dP, dZ, dS, and dB). Their analysis demonstrates that the additional letters do not perturb the structure or stability of the base pairs formed between the natural letters and, remarkably, that the new base pairs, dP-dZ and dS-dB, behave virtually identically to the natural base pairs. This unprecedented result convincingly demonstrates that the thermodynamic and structural behavior previously thought to be the purview of only natural DNA is in fact not unique and can be imparted to suitably designed synthetic components. In addition, the first evidence that the eight-letter DNA can be transcribed into RNA by a mutant RNA polymerase is presented, paving the way for the transfer of more information from one biopolymer to another. Along with others working to develop unnatural DNA base pairs for both in vitro and in vivo applications, this work represents an important step toward the expansion of the genetic alphabet, a central goal of synthetic biology, and has profound implications for our understanding of the molecules and forces that can make life possible.