The fact that XNA is complementary to DNA, yet structurally unique, makes it immediately useful for medicine, biotechnology and biology research. Holliger imagines XNAs that could be injected into the human body to detect early, subtle signs of disease that current technologies miss.
Steven Benner, a fellow at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Gainesville, Fla., has also advanced the effort by expanding the genetic alphabet with two new nucleobases, Z and P. A larger alphabet could form a wider array of genes and, eventually, proteins. “The goal is to create chemically controlled systems that behave like biological systems, without being biological systems,” Benner says. “We believe whatever you can draw on a page, you can make.” — Ferris Jabr
This article was originally published with the title World Changing Ideas.