Astrobiology » RNA and DNA

The work of researchers from UK Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge UK have succeeded in mimicking the chemistry of life by producing synthetic versions of DNA and RNA molecules. This shows that DNA and its chemical cousin RNA are not unique in their ability to encode information and to pass it on through heredity. The work, reported in Science, is promising for future “synthetic biology” and biotechnology efforts. They certainly found that other 'sugar units' may perhaps replace ribose and deoxyribose. It also hints at the idea that if life exists elsewhere, it could be bound by evolution but not by similar chemistry. In fact, one reason to mimic the functions of DNA and RNA – which helps cells to manufacture proteins – is to determine how they came about at the dawn of life on Earth; many scientists believe that RNA arose first but was preceded by a simpler molecule that performed the same function. However, it has remained unclear if any other type of molecule can participate in the same unzipping and copying processes that give DNA and RNA their ability to pass on the information they carry in the sequences of their nucleobases – the five letters from which the genetic code is written. The classic double-helix structure of DNA is like a twisted ladder, where the steps are made from paired nucleobases whilst RNA is typically a single helix.

Ray Goodwin

Somewhere there are mountains
Glistening in the snow
Somewhere there are mountains
That we shall never know

Somewhere there are rivers
Flowing fast and free
Somewhere there are rivers
That we can never see

Somewhere there are oceans
And sun drenched island sands
Forests full of creatures
In vastly distant lands

Somewhere there’s a planet
Beneath an alien star
The people watch our tiny sun
And wonder where we are

One day perhaps we’ll find them
Across the void of space
Perhaps through ways as yet unknown
We’ll meet them face to face

The author of this web site Ray Goodwin holds B.Sc. Degrees from London University in Chemistry, Geology and Physiology and an M.Sc. in Biochemistry. He has spent most of his professional life teaching in Colleges of Technology. On his retirement he has entered the fields of astronomy, astrochemistry, astrobiology and space sciences. He has spent a great deal of his retirement in visiting amateur astronomy societies and in attending European Space Agency Symposia in ESTEC in the Netherlands and other scientific conferences in England and Sweden. He regularly attends the yearly European Astrofest in South Kensington London and other meetings in the UK. He has written scientific articles and given a number of lectures on diverse scientific subjects.

Readers of this web site are invited to e-mail the author ( and discuss their opinions of the topics dealt with and suggest any changes which they think may be helpful.

Life in the Cosmos Website
Version 01.00 - April 20, 2015.