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DNA Gets a New — and Bigger — Genetic Alphabet

Natural DNA is spelled out with four different letters known as bases — A, C, G, and T. Steven A. Benner and his colleagues have built DNA with eight bases — four natural, and four unnatural. They named their new system Hachimoji DNA (hachi is Japanese for eight, moji for letter). Crafting the four new bases that don’t exist in nature was a chemical tour-de-force. They fit neatly into DNA’s double helix, and enzymes can read them as easily as natural bases, in order to make molecules. “We can do everything here that is necessary for life,” said Benner, now a distinguished fellow at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Florida.

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