Life as we know it is a series of chemical reactions. Whether we are digesting food or making DNA, everything depends on those reactions. Scientists have managed to harness that process by creating enzymes made entirely from synthetic materials – and those molecules can actually trigger chemical reactions in lab tests. The research not only gives us new insight to the origins of life but it could also change the way we make drugs and do diagnostics.
Medical Research Council scientists led by Dr. Philipp Holliger built on previous research that created synthetic molecules called XNAs. These XNAs act like a sort of artificial DNA. Now the MRC team has created XNAzymes, which can create chemical reactions just like natural enzymes can. Because the XNAs aren’t recognized by the body, they could be used in a new variety of treatments.
“Until recently, it was thought that DNA and RNA were the only molecules that could store genetic information and, together with proteins, the only biomolecules able to form enzymes. Our work suggests that, in principle, there are a number of possible alternatives to nature’s molecules that will support the catalytic processes required for life. Life’s ‘choice’ of RNA and DNA may just be an accident of prehistoric chemistry,” said Dr. Holliger.