The DNA code in living things is made of four different molecules, called bases, that are nicknamed A, T, C and G. In a double row of DNA, the bases always link up to each other in a specific way, with A's matching with T's and C's matching with G's. In 2008, a team of researchers created a third, artificial pair of DNA molecules made to match with each other, named NaM and 5SICS. In this new study, some of the same researchers used a technique called X-ray crystallography to take pictures of A, T, C, G, NaM and 5SICS while they were getting copied in a test tube.
KlenTaq polymerase induces the dNaM-d5SICS unnatural base pair to adopt a natural, Watson-Crick–like structure.
Nature Chemical Biology - KlenTaq polymerase replicates unnatural base pairs by inducing a Watson-Crick geometry
Romesberg, Malyshev and their colleagues are now working on tweaking NaM and 5SICS so that natural DNA strands with those synthetic bases added will copy even more efficiently, at a rate that's closer to the rate found in all-natural DNA, they wrote in their paper. Once they accomplish that, they can start building synthetic organisms from the ground up. "If we can get this new base pair to replicate with high efficiency and fidelity in vivo [i.e., in a living organism], we'll have a semi-synthetic organism," Romesberg said.