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What’s the deal with artificial RNA?

What is RNA ?

A nucleic acid present in all living cells and many viruses, consisting of a long, usually single-stranded chain of alternating phosphate and ribose units, with one of the bases adenine, guanine, cytosine, or uracil bonded to each ribose molecule. RNA molecules are involved in protein synthesis and sometimes in the transmission of genetic information, also called ribonucleic acid.

A. Adenine

U. Uracil

C. Cytosine




Genome sequencing has not only extended our understanding of the blueprints of many plant species but also revealed the secrets of coding and non-coding genes. We present here a brief introduction to and personal account of key RNA-based technologies, as well as their development and applications for functional genomics of plant coding and non-coding genes, with a focus on short tandem target mimics (STTMs), artificial microRNAs (amiRNAs), and CRISPR/Cas9. In addition, their use in multiplex technologies for the functional dissection of gene networks is discussed.

RNA-based technologies are an essential toolbox for functional genomics in plants.

We focus on technologies involving STTMs, amiRNAs/tasiRNAs, and sgRNA-guided genome editing.

The article offers insights about how to improve RNA-based genome technologies, and their applications for functional discovery of coding and non-coding genes and their networks.


RNA molecules play diverse functional roles in natural biological systems. There has been growing interest in designing synthetic RNA counterparts for programming biological function. The design of synthetic RNA molecules that exhibit diverse activities, including sensing, regulatory, information processing, and scaffolding activities, has highlighted the advantages of RNA as a programmable design substrate. Recent advances in implementing these engineered RNA molecules as key control elements in synthetic genetic networks are highlighting the functional relevance of this class of synthetic elements in programming cellular behaviours


synthesis of artificial RNA from natural protein


World-first artificial enzymes suggest life doesn’t need DNA or RNA. For the first time, scientists have built artificial enzymes using lab-grown genetic material called XNA. The experiment bolsters the idea that life could evolve without what we thought to be the fundamental building blocks of life – DNA and RNA.

Scientists in the UK have created synthetic enzymes – vital catalysts needed to support life – from scratch, using genetic material created in the lab. These enzymes don’t contain DNA or RNA, they contain artificial XNA – xeno nucleic acid – and could be used to produce new medical treatments and find life on other planets.

Our work with XNA shows that there’s no fundamental imperative for RNA and DNA to be prerequisites for life,” one of the researchers, Philipp Holliger from the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, told Andy Coghlan at New ScientistStrangely enough, that lab happens to be the same one where, in 1953, the structure of DNA was first discovered by Francis Crick and James Watson.

Three years ago, Holliger’s team synthesised their first XNA in the lab. According to Coghlan, they made it using the same bases as DNA and RNA – adenine, thymine, guanine, cytosine and uracil. But they swapped the sugars onto which each of these bases are usually attached – deoxyribose for DNA and ribose for RNA – with other sugars and molecules that are not found in nature.

Since then the team has figured out how to fold strands of their synthetic XNA molecules to form enzymes. The XNA enzymes then displayed the ability to cut and paste individual pieces of XNA which store and copy genetic, or hereditary, information, while also building and breaking down certain molecules as needed.

Until recently it was thought that DNA and RNA were the only molecules that could store genetic information and, together with proteins, the only biomolecules able to form enzymes,” Holliger told Michelle Roberts at BBC News.

Being able to act as both an enzyme and a store for hereditary information, says New Scientist, are thought to be the first two major steps for creating life. Now all the XNA needs to master is the art of copying itself, just like RNA does.

The team is now working on creating new artificial XNA-based life-forms that could produce new medical treatments that interact with the patient’s RNA molecules, or be sent out into the environment to clean up pollutants. The discovery also opens up the possibilities for finding organisms on other planets, knowing that different kinds of molecules are capable of storing genetic information and forming life-supporting enzymes.

The [discovery] raises the possibility that, if there is life on other planets, it may have sprung up from an entirely different set of molecules, and it widens the possible number of planets that might be able to host life,” one of the team, Alex Taylor, told Steve Connor at The Independent.

Our XNAs are chemically extremely robust and, because they do not occur in nature, they are not recognised by the body’s natural degrading enzymes. This might make them an attractive candidate for long-lasting treatments that can disrupt disease-related RNA,” Holliger added.


Efforts to create more life in laboratories will eventually hit a philosophical wall, not a technical one. Creating something of this magnitude in a lab is a feat, but the question of determining the origin of life on earth is a historical problem that we are never going to be able to witness and verify.

Artificial RNA is the perfect manifestation of technology. Read more about today’s amazing technology here.

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