Significance Overstated | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 90 Issue 20 | p. 5 | Letters
Issue Date: May 14, 2012

Significance Overstated

Department: Letters

The lead News of the Week article in C&EN’s April 23 issue (page 5) is about a fascinating paper in Science entitled “Synthetic Genetic Polymers Capable of Heredity and Evolution” (DOI: 10.1126/science.1217622). These so-called XNAs have alternatives to ribose and deoxyribose but the same bases. The team engineered polymerases that could copy genetic information from DNA to XNA and back again.

Great stuff, but the claims and conjectures about the significance of this work got way out of hand. Can this work really “inform the search for life on other planets and for the origin of life on our own”? The article also states, “Finally, the synthetic genetic polymers could be used as tools to figure out why, in the primordial soup, ribonucleic acids succeeded in becoming the first molecules of life, when many molecules were competing for the job.” That is quite a claim, since there is no evidence that ribonucleic acids were the first molecules of life. The “RNA world” proposes a scenario in which RNA came before DNA, but it is totally unproven. I have never heard anyone claim or conjecture that “ribonucleic acids were the first molecules of life.” The editors who presented this article must use some caution when making claims like this.

By Howard Deutsch

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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