A chemical approach to an environmentally safe synthetic biology

Piet Herdewijn

It is argued that genetic proliferation should be rationally extended so as to enable the propagation in vivo of additional types of nucleic acids (XNA for 'xeno-nucleic acids'), whose chemical backbone motifs would differ from deoxyribose and ribose, and whose polymerization would not interfere with DNA and RNA biosynthesis. Because XNA building blocks do not occur in nature, they would have to be synthesized and supplied to cells which would equipped with an appropriate enzymatic machinery for polymerizing them. The invasion of plants and animals with XNA replicons can be envisioned in the long run, but it is in microorganisms, and more specifically in bacteria, that the feasibility of such chemical systems and the establishement of genetic enclaves separated from DNA and RNA is more likely to take place. The introduction of expanded coding through additional or alternative pairing will be facilitated by the propagation of replicons based on alternative backbone motifs and leaving groups, as enabled by XNA polymerases purposefully evolved to this end.

This project will give access to a safer level of informational transactions in engineered life forms ans thus, to an environmentally safe synthetic biology. The develop technology will lead to new application in medicine, agriculture and energy.