Will Artificial DNA Unleash Unintended Consequences?
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December 25, 2009

Will Artificial DNA Unleash Unintended Consequences?

6a00d8341bf7f753ef011570bd4ea4970b-320wiCyborgs have been the sci-fi dream of a generation, merging man and machine in amazing new combinations. Most of which seem to look like major action stars. But a team at the University of Copenhagen think that's amateur hour. In fact they find the entirety of life of planet Earth to be distinctly underwhelming, which is why they're working on an upgrade - triple-helixed DNA.

The idea is to add a third Peptide Nucleic Acid (PNA) strand to the two Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) strands we started with. This ultimate artificial additive can regulate the activity of the existing
genes, blocking some or enhancing others, and that's just for starters: the cyber-strand is not limited to the four letter vocabulary of GATC, meaning that extra characters could be added tothat very exclusive club.

When a team at the Center for Biomolecular Recognition first attempted to install a PNA strand into the "Major Groove" of regular DNA (yes, this concept is so cool that even the scientific terms involved are
funky), they were excited by a surprising and sophisticated effect. Because unintended consequences of far greater complexity than anticipated are exactly what you want to happen in a lab working on
life-capable chemicals.

6a00d8341bf7f753ef011570bd5bf2970b-320wiGene Instead of a single PNA strand joining into the genetic party, two PNAs would muscle out one of the existing strands and create a region of two-thirds artificial triple-tagged helix. The displaced DNA would hang loose outside this region, forming a "p-loop" which has since been found to speed up replication of the structure. Also, the PNA-DNA bonds are stronger than the originals.

To recap: you have artificial cyber-genetics with capabilities beyond those of weak organics, they're stronger, and they can replicate faster. It's clear that this entire branch of science has escaped from a movie somehow, a conclusion strengthened by the fact that the PNA has a ridiculous weakness: water. Yes, just like Signs. No, we don't think it's on purpose.

Inside a squishy organic creature isn't a great place for chemicals that don't like water, and any PNA in a living organism is rapidly excreted - but not too rapidly for it to have effects. PNA has already been used to cure muscular dystrophy in lab animals, meaning that even without a chemical raincoat (which scientists are already working on) it's a powerful tool for controlling the very code of
creation.

Scientists currently researching in the field think waterproofing their work is only a matter of time, meaning that we could be looking at triple-stranded DNA in the future. We still have a long way to go
though - if expository movie computer-graphics can be believed, we need eight to recreate Leloo from the Fifth Element.

It'll be a lot of work, but we're sure you'll agree it's worth it.

Posted by Luke McKinney.

Triple-helical DNA

Comments

Nobody (known) expressed fears regarding the use and proliferation of nukes. Even now, there seems to be little hope about avoiding the Islamist bad guys taking hold of Pakistan nukes. Of course, one should listen to the pacifists, who insist that this would be a step forward towards peace discussions.
As regards the DNA issue, if... oh, well, Nature designed a two strand DNA; and even excluded the PNA for squishy organisms, may that fact be a a kind of a message? The nuke issue is nothing comparable to the possibilities that the three strand DNA promises. Nevertheless, our nature can´t deny the positive part as the incentive.

Well, about the natural development of organisms - you can surely tell that there is a message in the 'choice' of two strand DNA. But it's only that what we can see around us (ourselves included) would not be possible with less strands (if you could imagine that).
There is more than one way life can accomplish itself, and the way it actually does is always the most efficient - least resources, shortest way, because superabundance is just... unnatural.
So I guess you could say - there is no triple strand only because you don't actually need one to have adaptable life.
It certainly doesn't mean you can't have that if you make it yourself.

DNA is far more complex then any computer software and humans can't upgrade the computer software that they themselves created without encountering unintended consequences or bugs. This can be catastrophic to the function of a device or a network of devices. DNA was not created by humans and even with a good understanding about what a particular piece of DNA does, that understanding is by no means complete nor is there any assurance that there are not a host of functions which remain unknown. Unintended consequences as a result of hunan beings manipulating DNA are a certainty. The effect they will have on life is the question.


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