PerspectiveEvolution

Toward an Alternative Biology

Science  20 Apr 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6079, pp. 307-308
DOI: 10.1126/science.1221724

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Summary

Genetics provides a mechanism for molecular memory and thus the basis for Darwinian evolution. It involves the storage and propagation of molecular information and the refinement of that information through experience and differential survival. Heretofore, the only molecules known to be capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution were RNA and DNA, the genetic molecules of biology. But on page 341 of this issue, Pinheiro et al. (1) expand the palette considerably. They report six alternative genetic polymers that can be used to store and propagate information; one of these was made to undergo Darwinian evolution in response to imposed selection constraints. The work heralds the era of synthetic genetics, with implications for exobiology, biotechnology, and understanding of life itself.