Artificial enzymes have been manufactured by scientists using raw materials other than the usual ones, DNA and RNA. Rather, the enzymes have been made from XNAs (xeno nucleic acid). The study might have far-reaching implications with the potential of shedding light on the emergence of life on Earth. The new type of enzymes might also be used for the treatment of diseases.
For the first time ever in the scientific world, synthetic enzymes have been manufactured from artificial genetic material (not DNA, or RNA). This has been made possible by previous studies whereby synthetic DNA and RNA forms were made.
The study might be the potentially useful for other research works dealing with the mystery of the origin of life on Earth, together with finding life on planets other than our own, and even for diseases.
The enzymes were made from the same building blocks of DNA and RNA. Additionally, other molecules were made to fit in the structure to construct enzymes. The new synthetic molecules were called XNAs (xeno nucleic acid). A feature of the XNAs is that they can store and pass on genetic information. From these, the scientists made enzymes using only XNAs, crushing the long-held belief that only DNA and/or RNA, in association with proteins, could make enzymes. The synthetic enzymes have been called XNAzymes.
XNAzymes share similar characteristics to natural enzymes, such as, cutting and glueing together pieces of RNA. One of them was also shown to do the same for XNA pieces.
Enzymes are believed to have played a key role in the emergence of life on Earth. According to scientists, a major event involving life on our planet was the development of genetic material into self-replicating enzymes. This new research might help reproducing the earliest stages of life, as theorised by scientists.
But, does this mean that life might have evolved without the presence of DNA or RNA?
The lead scientist, Philip Holliger, stated that: “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.”
The results of the study can be used for building up more hypotheses. If life can come from different raw material in the form of molecules that do not occur naturally, this could mean that life might emerge on other planets from other backbone-molecules that we might not even be aware of.
Whether or not the implications of this study reach beyond our planet, it can potentially solve problems our own people face, like diseases. Artificially-made enzymes might be a ray of hope for the treatment of a range of diseases. The authors of the paper are positive that synthesised XNAs might be made to chip off pieces of RNA that are the result of cancer genes. The XNAs might also be used to chop off fragments of viral RNA.