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back to article Biologists create synthetic DNA capable of EVOLUTION

Synthetic DNA and RNA has been shown to be capable of evolving in the lab, carrying hereditary traits with it. The synthetic form of DNA, life's building block, was able to share information with real DNA and undergo directed evolution into biologically useful forms. Boffins are studying the fundamental question about DNA: …

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Anonymous Coward

I am sure Cameron & co will find a way to tax the poor things.

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OK....that was completely irrelevant.

I wonder if the other Cameron (Kirk) will pay any attention to these findings...

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Oh... THAT Cameron.

I was trying to figure out how taxing these things would help bring up the Titanic.

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Happy

Actually...

I am just waiting for Apple/Samsung/MS lawyers to turn up and claim prior-art/copyright/trademark or any other amount of legal nonsense to get the whole thing in court and start extracting the spondoolics from all and sundry!

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Anonymous Coward

Funny thing

is they had to think it all out, while nature just did it.

perhaps.

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Re: Funny thing

Nature had trillions of petri dishes and billions of years - I don't think we're doing so bad...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Funny thing

Much of the natural sciences is working out what nature did... and yes, the scientists do have to think about it. Reverse 'engineering' works like that.

Garry Larson: 'Creationism Explained', 'God designs the Great White Shark' ("hmmm, I wonder if I should put a smiley face on the uvula?") or 'God makes the snake' ("Boy, these things are a cinch!")

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Re: Funny thing

Only trillions?

Yes, I know it's a figure of speech, but given the Avogadro constant and the size of Earth's oceans it seems a bit inadequate.

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JDX
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Re: Funny thing

I have a similar thought - that when evolutionists talk about how things happened gradually over millions of years, I'm amazed it could happen so fast!

It's an interesting experiment but they seem to be coming at it backwards, making a special version of DNA and trying to reverse the process. Is anyone trying to work the way nature did, but accelerated?

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Re: Funny thing

We can't do this "the way nature did, but accelerated" because we don't know the starting point. That's specifically what they're trying to discover.

As for the speed of evolution, a key thing to remember is that evolution is slow and gradual, but it is also a massively parallel process - it proceeds in every possible direction simultaneously. It's not like a design process, where you have a time budget that must be allocated to features; rather, it's as if every possible feature had all available time to itself. In this perspective, it's easy to see why it appears to be fast.

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Boffin

Re: Funny thing

...As for the speed of evolution, a key thing to remember is that evolution is slow and gradual,...

That view is valid only for Cladists. If one is a member of the clan of Punctuated Equilibrium then evolution can occur within a relatively short period of time. Stephen J. Gould called this dichotomy "Evolution's dirty little secret".

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JDX
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Re: Funny thing

As in the book Darwin's Radio? That seems too far-fetched to me, trying to find a solution that fits.

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Re: Funny thing

<blockquote>Is anyone trying to work the way nature did, but accelerated?</blockquote>

We know that the DNA world exists. It can be shown that a RNA world is possible, and being simpler, very likely preceded the DNA world. We do not know the components that preceded the RNA world, other than a very good guess at the inorganic (lifeless) starting conditions. Therefore, the top-down experimental design is the most logical. A bottom-up design, as you suggest, would have to be a brute force approach, and so could not be accelerated.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Funny thing...yes

Hmm..apart from _we are_ part of nature, aren't we? ;)

Love how people like to think of themselves as somehow external and distinct.

We're simply doing what we were inevitably going to do, having evolved the way we have... but yes, aren't we clever :)

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Natural petri dishes

I think the most likely site where this type of reaction could take place would be in tidal pools. So, the OP's trillions is probably on the correct magnitude.

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Paris Hilton

TnA

Is my favourite NA

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Mushroom

Lol

Demonstrable evolution *and* something less than 6,000 years old.

What will the nutters think of that one!

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TNA

*snigger*

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TRT
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Coat

Blasphemy!

Mine's the one with the Kaled mutant in the pocket.

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I tried reading about it, via the link

"A sequence-specific DIG-labeled probe targeting the extension product is annealed to the extended primers and detection proceeds as in ELISA, using an anti-DIG HRP-conjugated antibody."

Now I know how 'ordinary' people feel when I try explaining how computers work.

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Happy

Re: I tried reading about it, via the link

I understand it perfectly. But then, I do IT in a biomedical research laboratory.

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Re: I tried reading about it, via the link

ELISA is kinda like panning for gold, but with a much higher accuracy.

The rest of the TLA's are basically just telling you the colour & shape of the pan :)

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Boffin

Re: I tried reading about it, via the link

That is a good layman's description. This Biologist applauds your de-technilsing of biological terms. Although DIG is an abbreviation rather than a TLA.

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Re: I tried reading about it, via the link

Thanks. Not entirely happy with the analogy, but it'll suffice.

It's a while since I've been in the lab!

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Pirate

WHAT?

Nobody welcomes our XNA-based overlords?

After all, we all know how this ends in SF films

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Paris Hilton

Re: WHAT?

No need to worry, the scientists will evolve the XNA into sexbots so they can get laid.

Paris because that's what they'll all look like.

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Re: WHAT?

@Euripides Pants

You're thinking of XXXNA

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Alert

Whait... what?

So, boffins creating in lab evolvable DNA.

Can this be called Intelligent Design?

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Def
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Re: Whait... what?

Yeah, all this will do is add fuel to the fire of the ID muppets, and they'll start claiming we're just reproducing the work of "the designer".

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Re: Whait... what?

Provided you don't claim the designer is the Abrahamic god...

Which is what ID is, it always leads to the Abrahamic god. Could be aliens or the Inca gods for all we know...

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JDX
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Re: Whait... what?

Yes of course it's ID, it doesn't affect the arguments whether our DNA is or isn't ID though... unless they reach a point where they cannot find any explanation how things happened in which case such research would actually strengthen the ID case.

Scientists (well the atheist majority) would hope this doesn't happen but you never know, if the scientific evidence points that way they'd have to follow it just like any other science.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Whait... what?

Why bring insults into this? It proves the point I saw on TV that evolutionists don't want to argue science with creationists so they make it a faith vs science thing. Not all the time but enough to make it hard to debate properly.

I think that this is interesting as the origins of molecules like nucleic acids and proteins are important for evolutionists to prove. If it can be shown that such molecules can form from their components in "nature" it helps show that there is a naturalist explanation for life. If not then ... well they must have come from somewhere.

Anon because this topic gets silly too easily.

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Stop

@AC "evolutionists don't want to argue science with creationists"

How do you argue science with someone whose start and finish point is "My god did it!"? Since the existence of gods is unproveable, the argument, whatever else it is, cannot be scientific.

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and to think...

Our alien overlords did this about 5 billion years ago. Time flies.

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Joke

Re: and to think...

Clearly none of you have read the opening page of "Good Omens" by Pratchett and Gaiman properly!

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But then the question becomes where did RNA come from?

"But then the question becomes where did RNA come from?"

It dripped from his noodly appendage.

I thought everyone knew that.

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Re: But then the question becomes where did RNA come from?

There must be some Godwin-esque law you have just proven?

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Awesome research. A good model of how to get RNA from raw inorganics is the key missing piece of the puzzle. If they figure it out, we'll have a good, plausible idea of how life started.

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@Filippo

Yes, and no.

There is no real reason to suppose that RNA was the first replicator - it could have been the millionth generation one. The problem is, all the prior ones, if they existed, were not as "good" and have been gobbled up.

The best analogy I've seen is a dry stone arch. It looks impossible to make, as it self-supports on the keystone (which mimics the idea of Irreducible Complexity) . But if you know there was scaffold there to make it which was later removed, you can see how it was made, even if the scaffold is no longer there.

Now, what was the scaffold made of...?

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Re: @Filippo

Traditionally, the scaffold is timber, although these days I think steel is occasionally used.

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anyone else think that the who DNA - ANA - FNA - TNA thing sounds just like different forms of wrestling?

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Facepalm

Evolution?

Obviously that DNA *didn't* evolve because evolution can't exist because god made stuff. Therefore all the scientists that observed the evolution of their DNA must have experienced group hallucination, QED.

The mystery of the creation of the Universe is clearly solved by saying god did it. But god is mysterious, but that's ok because we can accept a god being mysterious, it's only mysterious universes we have difficulty with. *coughcough*

*tumbleweed*

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JDX
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Re: Evolution?

Sorry but that's total misinformation. Even a young-earth viewpoint doesn't mean things can't be evolving now.

Claiming science and God are mutually incompatible is a claim based on ignorance of both sides :)

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Linux

Re: Evolution?

The mystery of the creation of the Universe is clearly solved by saying evolution did it. But evolution is mysterious, but that's ok because we can accept a evolution being mysterious, it's only mysterious gods we have difficulty with. *coughcough*

My shot is cheaper than yours, but the point is, we are quite happy to say, "evolution did it but we don't know how (where did RNA come from?)," but not happy to say, "God did it but we don't know how." There are those (not myself) who say that God provided the spark of life and then guided evolution to the point of creating modern man 6000 years ago. I suspect that that idea would still be grossly unacceptable to most people here, which points to a philosophical distaste for God, rather than a dispute over evidence.

The idea that "evolution happens, but its just too slow to observe today, despite geometric population figures" might be logically consistent with the theory, but it is up there with transubstantiation in the "you can't detect it, but you'll have to trust us" stakes. Evolution could be massively parallel at the lower end, but with larger organisms, the parallelism plummets. How many dinosaurs are required before one tries being a bird? How many failed birds do you need before you get success? How many useful genetic mutations meet an untimely demise in the jaws of a predator and die out or regress to the mean. How much evidence of any of these do we have? Do the statistics and probabilities make sense even with the "millions of years" wand or are we really only justifying what we want to believe on the thinnest of evidence.

Its quite interesting to see the TED talk on "Unseeable Biology" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFCvkkDSfIU) looking at DNA. These aren't blobs of goo in a petri dish, these are molecular-sized factories stripping, reordering and copying DNA and walking around the cell. If these are required for DNA replication we've got a serious chicken and egg situation going on.

Tux: Intelligent Design on the Desktop and in the Server Room

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Re: Evolution?

"where did RNA come from"

Nucleotides form spontaneously from inorganic molecules (e.g. formamide) under heat and UV.

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Happy

There, fixed.

It looks like you were trying to write something about science. Let me help you with that:

"The mystery of the creation of the Universe is clearly unsolved but being tackled by astrophysics. It's a tough one, but thankfully not related to this research. Whew. Also, the mystery of how DNA life came about is hard, and has nothing to do with 'evolution' as it applies to DNA life on the biological level. The mystery we're talking about now is one of chemistry, and it's also pretty hard to work on (but not as hard as the whole creation of the universe thing). That's OK, though, because 'hard' is not 'impossible'; just hard. There's questions left to be answered and some of us want to find those answers, because whether or not other people use single words as explanation, we won't accept anything as definitive unless it literally shuts us up and we can no longer ask 'but then how did that come about'."

There, much better. Now it reflects reality. Keep asking questions until everything's explained. Which, most likely, will never happen. But in our quest, we'll learn a lot of things that will give us a better insight into how things work than we had before.

Now we're thinking in science.

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Re: Evolution?

"The idea that "evolution happens, but its just too slow to observe today, despite geometric population figures" might be logically consistent with the theory, but it is up there with transubstantiation in the "you can't detect it, but you'll have to trust us" stakes. ..."

Evoloution is self evident every day. Dogs are a self evident example of readily detectable "evolution." They are biologically the same species, but, if they were known only from skeletal remains, we'ld see a number of paleontological species based upon distinct skeletal traits including size at maturity, morphology, etc. There might be some pissing and moaning and cladists would be happy to explain why their view works better than standard systematics. Maize is another good example. It can't even propagate itself with out help. It has developed a commensal relationship with us. When you turn back to Darwin's Origin of Species, selection is what he and Wallace saw as the filter that passed "successful" traits, advantaged "better" traits, and eliminated lethal ones. Biological responsiveness to selective influences allows agriculture and animal husbandry to develop new strains.

In fact most of the confusion over evolution is the result of strawman arguments about progress set up by creationists, and which appeal to the ego of most people. Good old Herbert Spencer introduced the idea of progress into the evolution mix which was taken as evidence that western civilization was the pinnacle of evolution, and since men were principle "drivers" of "progress" they were obviously the pinnacle of evoltuion. Bad understanding of "evolution" from the get go. Evolution is a fancy word for a filter, which is what selection is: a filter. Since conditions vary, the filter changes. There's no way to reach a "pinnacle" of evolution since there's no such thing.

I think Stuart Kauffman's arguments concern self organizing systems are useful ideas. Among other there's an implicit definition of life AS evolution. Dead matter doesn't evolve.

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Re: Evolution?

"but not happy to say, "God did it but we don't know how."

No; because saying 'God did it' at any point is proof-by-faith, which is an invalid proof.

"where did RNA come from?" - being unable to provide an answer is NOT proof-of-god.

If you look at things from a scientific perspective it is very hard to actually 'prove' the existence of god-as-creator-of-all.

Exercise for the reader - propose an experiment that proves the existence of god. Take all the time you need.

The whole proof-denies-faith discussion is a circular argument anyway - saying your faith proves there is a god denies god. Please be careful crossing the road!

" If these are required for DNA replication we've got a serious chicken and egg situation going on." - no, you just don't understand molecular biology. That's OK though, that's why it's still being researched. There are a whole bunch of entirely plausible pathways to what we call life; research continues. We will probably never know for certain which pathway led to our life - but not knowing exactly how or when is NOT a reason to throw our hands in the air and say 'It must have been Big Electric Sky-Daddy-Shepherd-Tooth-Fairy'

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