News of the WeekCATALYSIS

Chemical Accessories Give DNA New Talents

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Science  06 Nov 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5391, pp. 1020-1021
DOI: 10.1126/science.282.5391.1020b

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Chemists and biologists have long attempted to create hybrid molecules that are both chemically adept, like proteins, and easy to copy and vary, like DNA--properties that might enable researchers to "evolve" valuable new catalysts--but they have been stymied because the enzyme that copies DNA, called DNA polymerase, balks when it encounters a modified DNA building block. Now two groups have managed to outwit the finicky enzymes, opening the door to a new family of DNA-based catalysts and raising questions of whether such molecular hybrids could have played a role in the evolution of life. Although neither of the new experiments actually shows that hybrid DNA-protein molecules can catalyze chemical reactions, they are getting very close, according to some researchers.