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Biotech Science

Artificial DNA Replicates and 'Evolves' 126

Posted by Soulskill
from the cylons-were-created-by-man dept.
ananyo writes "Scientists have demonstrated that several lab-made variants of DNA can store and transmit information much like the genuine article. DNA is made up of nucleic acid bases — labelled A, C, G and T — on a backbone made of phosphates and the sugar deoxyribose. The artificial polymers, dubbed XNAs, carry the normal genetic 'alphabet' on a backbone made using different sugars. The researchers engineered enzymes that transcribed DNA into the various XNAs, then back into new DNA strands. Faithful genetic transmission over successive DNA-to-XNA cycles allowed researchers to select for only those XNAs that attached to certain target proteins from a pool of random samples — a process akin to evolution over multiple generations (abstract). The research confirms for the first time that replication, heredity and evolution can take place in artificial DNA-like molecules."
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Artificial DNA Replicates and 'Evolves'

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  • Possible to store all written knowledge in a cat?
    • by mfh (56)

      Possible to store all written knowledge in a cat?

      Perhaps one day we'll realize that everything our alien forefathers knew was written in our DNA -- or cats (you know those Egyptians sure loved them). The code said that we had to overcome the religious superstitions and start venturing into space as a species or risk total annihilation.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The code says "this organism evolved naturally"

      • by amRadioHed (463061) on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:01AM (#39746693)

        My codes says "Be sure to drink your ovaltine"

      • by arth1 (260657)

        +1 Funny

        But why this obsession with saving the species? Why not try to save the family or order?

        • by RussR42 (779993)
          Because saving our species means saving a lot of others as well? And if we do bother to save ourselves then the best evolutionary strategy for all other (earth) life suddenly becomes "Be useful to humans."
        • But why this obsession with saving the species? Why not try to save the family or order?

          We're humans. We consider ourselves more valuable than the rest of the Earth's creatures combined. If we do not survive then the rest of it doesn't matter because we won't be around to see it.

          • by flirno (945854)

            At the least the idea is that the other critters are still interesting examples of genetics and of working organisms that we are still learning things from both of ourselves and of how organisms can be designed/engineered and exhibit good and bad points of different types of genetics.

          • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

            But why this obsession with saving the species? Why not try to save the family or order?

            We're humans. We consider ourselves more valuable than the rest of the Earth's creatures combined. If we do not survive then the rest of it doesn't matter because we won't be around to see it.

            Of course, if the rest doesn't survive, we won't be around to see it, either. We really do have a symbiotic relationship with the rest of the planet.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          The last time I tried to help a chimpanzee, it tore my face off. Sorry, after that, I'm a one-species guy.

        • by Belial6 (794905)
          Because we don't see any other species that is concerned with saving the family, order or even their own species. We are the only species that will even consider trying to save any species. It is also that we try to save the animals that we consider "family". At one time that was a very small group. Now, most people see all humans as being related. We are also seeing this attitude move to other species as more people start seeing their dog or cat as a "person" or even a "family member". The save "fami
      • Somewhere, deep in our DNA, we will one day find the hidden message from our creators... a copyright notice.
      • The code said that we had to overcome the religious superstitions and start venturing into space as a species or risk total annihilation.

        Incorrect; the actual message is as follows:

        We

        Apologize

        For

        The

        Inconvenience

        • by Evtim (1022085)

          Well done, you beat me to it! But why you are not modded up is a mystery....

          • Well, either I've made a sufficient number of enemies, or the reference was too nerdy even for /.
            • The day when Hitchhiker's Guide is 'to nerdy' for /. will be a sign of the end times.

              (At least the end times of this site.)

      • Or maybe the code was more like "Pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels--bring home for Emma."

        You never know.

      • Nah, it's just a video of an ugly female alien who tells us to try and just all get along.

        Needless to say, everyone ignores her.

        P.S. Are you still the original asshat who bought the account in order to get instinctive upmods from the mouth-breathers, or has he resold it?

      • by Hillgiant (916436)

        Dresden Codak explores the implications of this very subject.
        http://dresdencodak.com/2009/07/12/fabulous-prizes/ [dresdencodak.com]

      • Oblig comic [dresdencodak.com]
    • by Hatta (162192)

      No. Unless there's a selective advantage towards maintaining a specific stretch of DNA you can expect it to accumulate mutations or deletions and be selected out of the genome.

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      No, but you can store it in an amoeba.

  • by mfh (56)

    Take it one step further, if we start breeding some computers, they could evolve to become more and more powerful while we all just relax and play video games. As we all get lazier and lazier, this is the eventual outcome; we will become obsolete when we stop adapting and the key limitation for any computer system is that the system is not able to improve itself. With this kind of DNA replication theory tested and proved, we now can use this to facilitate a computer chip that improves itself.

    • Fear Not (Score:4, Insightful)

      by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Friday April 20, 2012 @10:55AM (#39746615) Journal

      With this kind of DNA replication theory tested and proved, we now can use this to facilitate a computer chip that improves itself.

      What is the learning environment that defines what "improves" means?

      I've studied artificial intelligence extensively and there's a whole lot of effort going into reinforcement learning, genetic annealing, etc. But the key thing to remember with DNA is that the Earth provided this environment for it to be tested in and be given feedback. The feedback was and still is exceptionally harsh in that you either died or adapted. On top of that, the DNA lead to things that eventually competed with each other.

      The problem with computer chips is that there is no fundamental death/life reward system unless we as humans implement it. And there will always be a need for us to do this because nature doesn't care about logic gates, we do. If you make a set of chips to provide an environment for incubating and reward or punishing the first set of chips, you merely have another layer where humans must evaluate and instruct the chips as to what it is that we want.

      Faithful genetic transmission over successive DNA-to-XNA cycles allowed researchers to select for only those XNAs that ...

      Unfortunately, in order to impose your will (no matter how lazy you wish to be) you still must define your will. And I think you'll see that it becomes a major effort when trying to set up automated systems like you propose.

      Simply said: define "improves." Putting the chips outside and pitting them against each other in nature isn't gonna do it. The ability to direct harmful radiation will probably win out over gigahertz or logic gates per area.

      • The metric of improvement will probably be its ability to kill all humans. It's an understudied area of AI that is full of potential advances.

        • by lpp (115405)

          For any AI to substantially compete in the arena of killing humans, they must first overtake the leader in that arena -- humanity.

        • by flirno (945854)

          They wouldn't even have to 'kill' all humans. For example they could just prevent human reproduction.

      • "The problem with computer chips is that there is no fundamental death/life reward system unless we as humans implement it. And there will always be a need for us to do this because nature doesn't care about logic gates, we do. If you make a set of chips to provide an environment for incubating and reward or punishing the first set of chips, you merely have another layer where humans must evaluate and instruct the chips as to what it is that we want."

        Don't despair, this is how humans have hade breeding prog

  • The research confirms for the first time that replication, heredity and evolution can take place in artificial DNA-like molecules.

    That is pretty impressive. Up til now I was firmly of the opinion that chemistry only worked properly in natural molecules.

    • I think this might count as biology, not chemistry... (Although it's right at the overlap.)

    • The researchers just created a very simple life form (if it evolves, it is alive for any usefull pourpose here) from molecules that are expected to be created at random at the earlier times of our planet. Now somebody just needs to calculate the probability of those molecules appearing and interacting anywhere on the planet, and we have a lower value for the probability of life appearing on Earth.

      Of course, that's different life from we, as we likely come from the evolution of RNA molecules.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Is it that hard to type out adenine guanine cytosine and thymine? Even my cereal box has thymine written on the side!

  • Spongiform cure? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by i kan reed (749298)

    The ability to "breed" chemicals that bond to specific proteins sounds like it could cure a boatload of previously incurable diseases. I'm not sure that is what the researchers are going for, but to me, this sounds like "miracle cure" type stuff.

    Bacteria/virus/tumor cells/prions go in, perfectly tailored antibody components come out. Attach some highly reactive oxides/chlorides and you have a targeted antibiotic. At least that's how the science fiction version of this would go.

    • At the same time, you have some incredibly well targeted toxins. Imagine a researcher discovering the unique enough markers for certain families or racial groups (if such a thing exists).

    • Re:Spongiform cure? (Score:4, Informative)

      by LetterRip (30937) on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:07AM (#39746775)

      We can already tailor antibodies to particular protiens. The issue is that cancer cells, bacteria and viruses are complicated. Their populations change under selective pressure from antibodies so that the protiens that were useful targets beocome useless, etc. While we are finding highly conserved genes to target it is non trivial.

  • I, for one (Score:1, Funny)

    by Loughla (2531696)
    welcome our new Descoladores overlords.
    • by KevCo (2333)

      I was hoping someone else would think of this. I wish I had some mod points for you.

  • FTFS: "...allowed researchers to select for only those XNAs that attached to certain target proteins from a pool of random samples — a process akin to evolution over multiple generations."

    It sounds overreaching to call this "evolution" if the researchers are selecting the better-performing samples. Incredibly cool, amazing breakthrough, but not evolution...

    • by JazzHarper (745403) on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:00AM (#39746689) Journal

      It sounds overreaching to call this "evolution" if the researchers are selecting...

      Artificial selection and natural selection are equally valid ways of inducing evolution. Without some selection process, it's just random variation, with no trend.

    • Yes, evolution, it's just that instead of natural environmental forces determining fitness, it's the scientist. Darwin certainly saw artificial selection (animal breeding) as a form of evolution, and even used it as an example.

      Here's a hint. Genes have no brains. They have no way of knowing that they're being selected for or against by, say, colder winters, or because a scientist is invoking an arbitrary set of standards. In either case, it is evolutionary forces shaping the hereditary units.

    • In their experiment, selection is not hand choosing in the sense that you are selecting which apple to buy at the supermarket. The selections usually performed in these types of experiments are binding interactions or some form of catalysis. All of the XNAs (random pool) that bind to a target molecule or perform the desired reaction are taken to the next step of the process. This pool of "winners" is then amplified to create a new random pool for the next selection. Over many rounds of selection, you get th
  • Faithful genetic transmission over successive DNA-to-XNA cycles allowed researchers to select for only those XNAs that attached to certain target proteins from a pool of random samples — a process akin to evolution over multiple generations

    No, faithful genetic transmission is the exact opposite of the mutation necessary for a process akin to evolution.

    • by kubernet3s (1954672) on Friday April 20, 2012 @11:06AM (#39746757)
      You need a certain degree of faithfulness: if you lose too much information each transcription, there's no selection. I think geneticists have math for this that I'm not perfeclty versed in, but if you, say, lose 50% of your genome each generation, the increased chance that the next generation gets your good genes is negligible compared to the chance that they would have received that gene randomly. The news here is that they got transcription good enough to "evolve" their XNA, that is a high enough proportion of each generation was viable that they could be cycled through to the next population.
  • by PPH (736903)

    So if we can engineer different forms of XNA that are compatible with DNA replication, we can build some additional functions into them. Like the ability to pattern match strings of XNA based on magnetic or electrical properties. Think about genetic RFID tags.

    Since it might be possible to introduce these tagged sugar molecules through the food supply, the day will come when the TSA contracts to supply all your kids their school lunches.

    • by arth1 (260657)

      I'm far more worried what companies like Monsanto could do with this.

      However, if they can be easily engineered, and not just replicate existing DNA through a selection process, which seems to be the first step, I see some pretty radical possibilities for medicinal use, replacing or augmenting faulty or damaged DNA.
      Until the religious get their panties in a knot about messing with creation, that is.

  • by game kid (805301)

    I've dabbled with XNAs before. They start out cornflower blue, and eventually evolve into video games.

  • Replicants are like any other machine - they're either a benefit or a hazard. If they're a benefit, it's not my problem.
  • Man has become God.

    God want his share of the profits now....
  • Completely ignoring the elephant in the room: the assiduous intelligence needed to assemble the stuff.
    • The obvious loud-roaring mouse in the room says that no supernatural intervention was required, only natural processes. Intelligence assembled THESE molecules. It was not shown that intelligence was required to assemble DNA in general. Creationist fail again, as usual.
  • "Faithful genetic transmission over successive DNA-to-XNA cycles allowed researchers to select for only those XNAs that attached to certain target proteins from a pool of random samples — a process akin to evolution over multiple generations."

    A material's just being "sticky" is no kind of confirmation of the sequence uniformity. They would have to be sequenced to confirm this.

    The article only provides the most superficial description, and this is Science and Nature, though it also smacks of som
  • A higher order being created with 100% XNA would be stark proof to the doubters that man can create life or better said they would be forced to confront "unreal" life forms.
  • Beware of Shoggoths.
  • Geez Louise! Just wait until M$'s litigation division hears someone using their "XNA" brand --- holy shyster hell is about to break loose, with Nathan Myrvold's Intellectual Ventures' scam not far behind.........
  • When your self-replication is imperfect, just claim that it also has 'evolution' included.

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