According to a new study,millions of possible chemical compounds can be used to store genetic information. Moreover, scientists suggest that there are not just a handful of alternative molecules for storing genetic information, but millions. Sophisticated computer analysis has shown that instead of two nucleic acids (DNA and RNA), millions of other molecules can function in the body. At the same time, modern science says that genetic information is transcribed from DNA into RNA, which then translates this information into useful products, such as proteins. New research, however, suggests that DNA and RNA are just two of millions of others. The findings are important for the development of new drugs, the origin of life on Earth, and its possible presence in the rest of the universe.
DNA and RNA
Biologists say that genetic informationflows from DNA to RNA to proteins, and as soon as this information is transferred to a protein, it will not be able to return in the form of DNA or RNA again. This process seems to be universal among all living organisms. But what if it's not necessary? Can genetic information be stored in media other than two nucleic acids?
There are nucleic acid analogues, many ofwhich serve as the basis for important drugs for the treatment of viruses such as HIV and hepatitis, as well as for the treatment of cancer, but until recently no one was sure how many unknown nucleic acid analogs might exist.
In an attempt to dot the i's, the authorsresearch, published in the Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling, using computer technology that generates all possible molecules that meet a set of certain criteria, decided to conduct a chemical analysis. In this case, the criterion was the search for compounds that could serve as analogues of nucleic acids and a means of storing genetic information.
“We were surprised at the result of these calculations.”said study co-author Markus Mehringer in an interview with Big Think. “It would be very difficult to estimate a priori that there are over a million nucleic acid-like scaffolds. Now we know this and can start researching some of them in the laboratory. "
Note that the study itself isa long list of candidates to be studied for use as medicines for serious diseases such as HIV or cancer. A more intriguing possibility suggested by the study is that life itself may have taken its very first steps using one of these alternative compounds.
See also: Life on Earth could appear as a result of a hybrid of DNA and RNA molecules
Many scientists believe that before DNA becamethe dominant storage medium for genetic information, life used RNA to encode genetic data and transmit it to offspring. This is partly due to the fact that RNA can directly make proteins, which DNA cannot do on its own, and because it is a simpler structure than DNA.
Over time, life probably began to chooseuse DNA for storage because of its greater stability and rely on RNA as a kind of mediator for the production of proteins. But RNA itself is still a very complex compound and rather unstable; in all likelihood, something simpler appeared before RNA, possibly using some of the nucleic acid analogs identified in this study.
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Nucleic acid analogs galaxy
It not only sheds light on how life iscould originate on Earth, but also has implications for alien life. As the authors of the scientific work write, it is really interesting to consider the potential of alternative genetic systems based on these similar nucleosides. It is also interesting to speculate that they may have originated and evolved in various environments and even on other planets or moons in our solar system.
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These alternative genetic systems couldto expand our understanding of biology and evolution, which would help solve many problems here on Earth. When we search for extraterrestrial life, we often look for signs of RNA and DNA, but this can be an overly narrow search area and is unlikely to lead to any results. After all, if there are millions of alternatives, there must be something special in life to widely favor the use of only DNA and RNA.