skip to main content

Title: Crystallographic analysis of engineered polymerases synthesizing phosphonomethylthreosyl nucleic acid

Xeno-nucleic acids (XNAs) are synthetic genetic polymers with backbone structures composed of non-ribose or non-deoxyribose sugars. Phosphonomethylthreosyl nucleic acid (pTNA), a type of XNA that does not base pair with DNA or RNA, has been suggested as a possible genetic material for storing synthetic biology information in cells. A critical step in this process is the synthesis of XNA episomes using laboratory-evolved polymerases to copy DNA information into XNA. Here, we investigate the polymerase recognition of pTNA nucleotides using X-ray crystallography to capture the post-catalytic complex of engineered polymerases following the sequential addition of two pTNA nucleotides onto the 3′-end of a DNA primer. High-resolution crystal structures reveal that the polymerase mediates Watson–Crick base pairing between the extended pTNA adducts and the DNA template. Comparative analysis studies demonstrate that the sugar conformation and backbone position of pTNA are structurally more similar to threose nucleic acid than DNA even though pTNA and DNA share the same six-atom backbone repeat length. Collectively, these findings provide new insight into the structural determinants that guide the enzymatic synthesis of an orthogonal genetic polymer, and may lead to the discovery of new variants that function with enhanced activity.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
1946312 2001434
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Oxford University Press
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Nucleic Acids Research
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 9663-9674
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Synthetic genetics is an area of synthetic biology that aims to extend the properties of heredity and evolution to artificial genetic polymers, commonly known as xeno‐nucleic acids or XNAs. In addition to establishing polymerases that are able to convert genetic information back and forth between DNA and XNA, efforts are underway to construct XNAs with expanded chemical functionality. α‐L‐Threose nucleic acid (TNA), a type of XNA that is recalcitrant to nuclease digestion and amenable to Darwinian evolution, provides a model system for developing XNAs with functional groups that are not present in natural DNA and RNA. Here, we describe the synthesis and polymerase activity of a cytidine TNA triphosphate analog (6‐phenyl‐pyrrolocytosine, tCpTP) that maintains Watson‐Crick base pairing with guanine. Polymerase‐mediated primer extension assays show that tCpTP is an efficient substrate for Kod‐RI, a DNA‐dependent TNA polymerase developed to explore the functional properties of TNA byin vitroselection. Fidelity studies reveal that a cycle of TNA synthesis and reverse transcription occurs with 99.9% overall fidelity when tCpTP and 7‐deaza‐tGTP are present as TNA substrates. This result expands the toolkit of TNA building blocks available forin vitroselection.

    more » « less
  2. Nonnatural nucleic acids (xeno nucleic acids, XNA) can possess several useful properties such as expanded reactivity and nuclease resistance, which can enhance the utility of DNA as a biotechnological tool. Native DNA polymerases are unable to synthesize XNA, so, in recent years mutant XNA polymerases have been engineered with sufficient activity for use in processes such as PCR. While substantial improvements have been made, accuracy still needs to be increased by orders of magnitude to approach natural error rates and make XNA polymerases useful for applications that require high fidelity. Here, we systematically evaluate leading Taq DNA polymerase mutants for their fidelity during synthesis of 2′F XNA. To further improve their accuracy, we add mutations that have been shown to increase the fidelity of wild-type Taq polymerases, to some of the best current XNA polymerases (SFM4–3, SFM4–6, and SFP1). The resulting polymerases show significant improvements in synthesis accuracy. In addition to generating more accurate XNA polymerases, this study also informs future polymerase engineering efforts by demonstrating that mutations that improve the accuracy of DNA synthesis may also have utility in improving the accuracy of XNA synthesis. 
    more » « less
  3. Recent advances in polymerase engineering have made it possible to isolate aptamers from libraries of synthetic genetic polymers (XNAs) with backbone structures that are distinct from those found in nature. However, nearly all of the XNA aptamers produced thus far have been generated against protein targets, raising significant questions about the ability of XNA aptamers to recognize small molecule targets. Here, we report the evolution of an ATP-binding aptamer composed entirely of α-L-threose nucleic acid (TNA). A chemically synthesized version of the best aptamer sequence shows high affinity to ATP and strong specificity against other naturally occurring ribonucleotide triphosphates. Unlike its DNA and RNA counterparts that are susceptible to nuclease digestion, the ATP-binding TNA aptamer exhibits high biological stability against hydrolytic enzymes that rapidly degrade DNA and RNA. Based on these findings, we suggest that TNA aptamers could find widespread use as molecular recognition elements in diagnostic and therapeutic applications that require high biological stability. 
    more » « less
  4. null (Ed.)
    Abstract The helical structures of DNA and RNA were originally revealed by experimental data. Likewise, the development of programs for modeling these natural polymers was guided by known structures. These nucleic acid polymers represent only two members of a potentially vast class of polymers with similar structural features, but that differ from DNA and RNA in the backbone or nucleobases. Xeno nucleic acids (XNAs) incorporate alternative backbones that affect the conformational, chemical, and thermodynamic properties of XNAs. Given the vast chemical space of possible XNAs, computational modeling of alternative nucleic acids can accelerate the search for plausible nucleic acid analogs and guide their rational design. Additionally, a tool for the modeling of nucleic acids could help reveal what nucleic acid polymers may have existed before RNA in the early evolution of life. To aid the development of novel XNA polymers and the search for possible pre-RNA candidates, this article presents the proto-Nucleic Acid Builder (, an open-source program for modeling nucleic acid analogs with alternative backbones and nucleobases. The torsion-driven conformation search procedure implemented here predicts structures with good accuracy compared to experimental structures, and correctly demonstrates the correlation between the helical structure and the backbone conformation in DNA and RNA. 
    more » « less
  5. Abstract DNA polymerases play a central role in biology by transferring genetic information from one generation to the next during cell division. Harnessing the power of these enzymes in the laboratory has fueled an increase in biomedical applications that involve the synthesis, amplification, and sequencing of DNA. However, the high substrate specificity exhibited by most naturally occurring DNA polymerases often precludes their use in practical applications that require modified substrates. Moving beyond natural genetic polymers requires sophisticated enzyme-engineering technologies that can be used to direct the evolution of engineered polymerases that function with tailor-made activities. Such efforts are expected to uniquely drive emerging applications in synthetic biology by enabling the synthesis, replication, and evolution of synthetic genetic polymers with new physicochemical properties. 
    more » « less