BN Seminar by Philipp Holliger: "Synthetic genetics".





Kronigzaal, Building 22, Delft


Coming Thursday (July 4) at 16:00 in the Kronigzaal, Philipp Holliger from Cambridge UK will give a talk entitled: "Synthetic genetics". His group has been working on very exciting projects related to in vitro evolution and synthetic nucleic acids.  

Coffee/tea will be served at 15:50 and the seminar will be followed by a borrel in the room adjacent to the Kronigzaal.


Philipp Holliger, PhD

MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge Biomedical Campus, Francis Crick Avenue, Cambridge CB2 0QH, UK


Synthetic genetics



Synthetic biology seeks to probe fundamental aspects of biological form and function by construction (i.e. resynthesis) rather than deconstruction (analysis). Synthesis thus complements reductionist and analytic studies of life, and allows novel approaches towards fundamental biological questions.


We have been exploiting the synthesis paradigm to explore the chemical etiology of the genetic apparatus shared by all life on earth. Specifically, we ask why information storage and propagation in biological systems is based on just two types of nucleic acids, DNA and RNA. Is the chemistry of life’s genetic system based on chance or necessity? Does it reflect a "frozen accident", imposed at the origin of life, or are DNA and RNA functionally superior to simple alternatives.


I’ll be presenting recent progress on the development and application of strategies to enable the enzymatic synthesis and reverse transcription and hence replication and evolution of novel synthetic genetic polymers, which we term XNAs. We show that eight different synthetic polymers, based on nucleic acid architectures not found in nature, can also mediate genetic information storage and propagation [1, 2, 3]. Beyond heredity, we demonstrate a capacity for Darwinian evolution by the de novo selection of specific aptamers based entirely on 1,5 anhydrohexitol nucleic acids (HNA), one of the synthetic genetic polymers [1]. Thus, both heredity and evolution are likely to be emergent properties of polymers capable of information storage and are not limited to DNA and RNA.



[1] Pinheiro VB, Taylor AI, Cozens C, Abramov M, Renders M, Zhang S, Chaput JC, Wengel J, Peak-Chew S-Y, McLaughlin SH, Herdewijn P & Holliger P (2012) Synthetic Genetic Polymers Capable of Heredity and Evolution. Science. 336 : 341-44.


[2] Cozens C, Pinheiro VB, Vaisman A, Woodgate R, Holliger P. (2012) A short adaptive path from DNA to RNA polymerases. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 109 :8067-72


[3] Pinheiro VB, Holliger P (2012) The XNA world: progress towards replication and evolution of synthetic genetic polymers. Curr Opin Chem Biol. 16 :245-52