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DNA lends scientists a hand, revealing new chemical reactions

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - Scientists have developed a powerful way of mining the chemical universe for new reactions by piggybacking collections of different small organic molecules onto short strands of DNA, which then gives the reactants the opportunity to react by zipping together. Their work draws upon an innovative technique, known as "DNA-templated synthesis," that uses DNA to code not for RNA or proteins but instead for synthetic molecules.

The researchers, led by Harvard University chemist David R. Liu, report this week in the journal Nature that their system for reaction discovery, driven by DNA-templated synthesis, is so efficient that a single researcher can evaluate thousands of potential chemical reactions in a two-day experiment.

"A conventional approach to reaction discovery, in which different reaction conditions are examined for their ability to transform one type of substrates into one type of product, may well be the best approach for trying to achieve a specific transformation," says Liu, an associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. "But no one knows what fraction of 'reactivity space' has been mined thus far, or even what this space looks like. We were therefore intrigued by a different approach to reaction discovery that does not focus on any specific combination of substrates but instead can simultaneously examine many combinations."

DNA-templated synthesis, pioneered in Liu's group, taps the unique assembly power of nucleic acids to address fundamental challenges in chemistry. Organic molecules are attached to, and "encoded" by, single strands of approximately a dozen DNA bases; when two strands with complementary sequences spontaneously stick together, their associated organic molecules can undergo a chemical reaction to generate a product.

Because the resulting synthetic compounds are linked to DNA, techniques long used to screen and amplify the genetic mainstay
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Contact: Steve Bradt
steve_bradt@harvard.edu
617-496-8070
Harvard University
29-Sep-2004


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