Genetic 'telepathy'? A bizarre new property of DNA

January 28, 2008

Scientists are reporting evidence that intact, double-stranded DNA has the “amazing” ability to recognize similarities in other DNA strands from a distance. And then like friends with similar interests, the bits of genetic material hangout or congregate together. The recognition — of similar sequences in DNA’s chemical subunits — occurs in a way once regarded as impossible, the researchers suggest in a study scheduled for the Jan. 31 issue of ACS’ Journal of Physical Chemistry B.

Geoff S. Baldwin, Sergey Leikin, John M. Seddon, and Alexei A. Kornyshev and colleagues say the homology recognition between sequences of several hundred nucleotides occurs without physical contact or presence of proteins, factors once regarded as essential for the phenomenon.

This recognition may help increase the accuracy and efficiency of the homologous recombination of genes — a process responsible for DNA repair, evolution, and genetic diversity. The new findings thus may shed light on ways to avoid recombination errors, which underpin cancer, aging, and other health problems.

In the study, scientists observed the behavior of fluorescently tagged DNA strands placed in water that contained no proteins or other material that could interfere with the experiment. Strands with identical nucleotide sequences were about twice as likely to gather together as DNA strands with different sequences.

“Amazingly, the forces responsible for the sequence recognition can reach across more than one nanometer of water separating the surfaces of the nearest neighbor DNA,” said the authors.

Source: ACS

Explore further: Knowledge of DNA repair mechanisms advances with new paper

Related Stories

Synthetic imprinted polymers recognized by DNA

April 14, 2017

A UNT chemist is part of an international team who just made a breakthrough in DNA research. Using a polymer matrix, the team was able to imprint a sequence of a single strand DNA.

Recommended for you

The birth and death of a tectonic plate

May 24, 2017

Several hundred miles off the Pacific Northwest coast, a small tectonic plate called the Juan de Fuca is slowly sliding under the North American continent. This subduction has created a collision zone with the potential to ...

Shedding light on how humans walk... with robots

May 24, 2017

Learning how to walk is difficult for toddlers to master; it's even harder for adults who are recovering from a stroke, traumatic brain injury, or other condition, requiring months of intensive, often frustrating physical ...

Discovered: Fast-growing galaxies from early universe

May 24, 2017

A team of astronomers including Carnegie's Eduardo Bañados and led by Roberto Decarli of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy has discovered a new kind of galaxy which, although extremely old—formed less than a billion ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

3 / 5 (2) Jan 28, 2008
Here's one way to look at it: The molecules are trading more virtual photons because the resonant frequencies in the molecules are identical. Since energy always wants to balance itself between potential and kinetic when given a chance (Lagrange), then when given a chance, a system will convert excess potential energy into kinetic energy. In this case, this system is almost solely potential energy (in the form of matter) but the system has a chance to convert some of that potential energy to kinetic energy by moving the molecules closer together so that there can be more virtual photons. So that's what it does. I believe we'll find that the effect is far more pronounced at low temperature because the resonant frequencies will be more matched.
3 / 5 (2) Jan 28, 2008
The molecules are trading more virtual photons because the resonant frequencies in the molecules are identical.

That may explain why the strands move. But how does that explain the direction of movement? What properties of molecular resonant frequencies would cause "like" strands to be attracted rather than say repulsed from each other?

And I wonder if someone could chime in as to the magnitude or importance of this effect when judged within the class of known mechanisms for DNA interaction.

Regardless. Assuming the experiment is sound, it looks like it will be a very interesting paper to read. And an interesting subject to investigate further.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 28, 2008
So, kissing is a form of swapping genetic information too then, huh!?
not rated yet Jan 28, 2008
very interesting explanation. Maybe there is something to it.
5 / 5 (1) Jan 28, 2008
sounds like a variation of the casimir force problem. Maybe it's the minor groove interactions. Poly amide molecules "lexitropins" are able to bind to DNA double helices at their minor grooves. They are able to recognize the bases from the parts facing outward even when their innerparts are hydrogen bonded in double helical conformation.
not rated yet Jan 29, 2008
yeah what he said
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 31, 2008
I wonder... Are the base pairs themselves electrically charged (having either an excess or dearth of electrons)? If so, do the opposite base pairs have an opposite charge? If so, then what happens if two strands of like DNA "see" each other magnetically?

Say you have a strand:


And then you take the exact same strand of DNA and line itself up with itself:


Notice how the "opposite" bound base ends up next to the "original" base. If one assumes that the attractions are bi-directional (a C attracts G, so G attract C), then it's simply a matter of lining up opposite bases next to each other and having them attract one another (Electrically? Opposites attract).

Whereas if part of the strand were reversed, or sections were reversed, then some sections would NOT line up correctly, and might net a neutral or repulsive force (depending on rotational alignment along the axis, perhaps).

For example (using [yes] as attractive and [no] as repulsive):

(Original example)
A-T [Yes] A-T
T-A [Yes] T-A
C-G [Yes] C-G
G-C [Yes] G-C
G-C [Yes] G-C
C-G [Yes] C-G
T-A [Yes] T-A

more neutral sample:
A-T [No] T-A
T-A [Yes] G-C
C-G [No] T-A
G-C [No] C-G
G-C [Yes] G-C
C-G [Yes] C-G
T-A [No] A-T

The original example might have been highly attractive, whereas the second example (directly above) would be more mixed, composed of partly attractive pairings and slightly repulsive pairings. Thus it would not be as good a match as the more similar strand...

I'm tending to think of these as something more like an electric/magnetic "combination key." The more attractive pairings you get (in sequence), the more they are drawn together. The more "random" the pairings (the worse the sequential match), the less likely they are to be attracted? Or something like that...

But, maybe that's oversimplified? Makes sense to me, but may not work like that in reality.
not rated yet Jan 31, 2008
^ That's kinda what I was thinking.
not rated yet Feb 06, 2008
"...scientists observed the behavior of fluorescently tagged DNA strands placed in water"

Anybody know the properties of this fluorescent stuff? Possibly the behaviour is induced by the dyes?
not rated yet Feb 14, 2008
This is really amazing!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.