A major goal of synthetic biology is to recapitulate emergent properties of life. Despite a significant body of work, a longstanding question that remains to be answered is how such a complex system arose? In this dissertation, synthetic nucleic acid molecules with alternative sugar-phosphate backbones were investigated as potential ancestors of DNA and RNA. Threose nucleic acid (TNA) is capable of forming stable helical structures with complementary strands of itself and RNA. This provides a plausible mechanism for genetic information transfer between TNA and RNA. Therefore TNA has been proposed as a potential RNA progenitor. Using molecular evolution, functional sequences were isolated from a pool of random TNA molecules. This implicates a possible chemical framework capable of crosstalk between TNA and RNA. Further, this shows that heredity and evolution are not limited to the natural genetic system based on ribofuranosyl nucleic acids. Another alternative genetic system, glycerol nucleic acid (GNA) undergoes intrasystem pairing with superior thermalstability compared to that of DNA. Inspired by this property, I demonstrated a minimal nanostructure composed of both left- and right-handed mirro image GNA. This work suggested that GNA could be useful as promising orthogonal material in structural DNA nanotechnology.
- Developing alternative genetic systems for structural DNA nanotechnology and Darwinian evolution
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by Su Zhang