DNA molecules hold and transmit information in living things by selectively sticking to one another, depending on their internal sequence of bonding groups (complementary or not). An idea for how such sequence-directed assembly appeared on Earth is that such molecules were first made in liquid crystal (LC) droplets like those visible in the upper image. Here short DNA molecules form LC phases that appear brightly colored when viewed between crossed polarizers. The LC order also holds the short DNAs together to make it easy for ligation agents in solution to link them together chemically , making longer complementary chains. Thus the LC droplets are chemical microreactors in which the basic mechanism for biological information storage emerges. This work has been published in "Abiotic Ligation of DNA Oligomers Templated by their Liquid Crystal Ordering," T.P. Fraccia, G.P. Smith, G. Zanchetta, E. Paraboschi, Y. Yi, D.M. Walba, G. Dieci, N.A. Clark, T. Bellini, Nature Communications 6, 6424-6424 (2015); and "Evidence of Liquid Crystal-assisted Abiotic Ligation of Nucleic Acids," T.P. Fraccia, G. Zanchetta, V. Rimoldi, N.A. Clark, and T. Bellini, Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres 45 (1-2), 51-68 (2015).

Groups: Clark, Walba, Bellini
(March 2015)

nanoDNA microreactors
Droplet of condensed nano-DNA and within it smaller drops of its liquid crystal phase, illuminated at left between crossed polarizers. The liquid crystal droplets act as "micro-reactors" where short DNA can join together into long polymer chains without the aid of biological mechanisms.


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