Nucleic acids are the main information-carrying molecules of the cell, and, by directing the process of protein synthesis, they determine the inherited characteristics of every living thing. The two main classes of nucleic acids are deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA).
Richard J. Roberts
The nucleic acids, as constituents of living organisms, are comparable In importance to proteins. There is evidence that they are Involved In the processes of cell division and growth, that they participate In the transmission of hereditary characters, and that they are important constituents of viruses. An understanding of the molecular structure of the nucleic acids should be of value In the effort to understand the fundamental phenomena of life.
We are now witnessing, after the slow fermentation of fifty years, a concentration of technical power aimed at the essential determinants of heredity, development and disease. This concentration is made possible by the common function of nucleic acids as the molecular midwife of all reproductive particles. Indeed it is the nucleic acids which, in spite of their chemical obscurity, are giving to biology a unity which has so far been lacking, a chemical unity.
C. D. Darlington
My laboratory is interested in the related challenges of understanding the origin of life on the early earth, and constructing synthetic cellular life in the laboratory. Focusing on artificial life frees us to explore novel chemical systems, but what we learn from these systems helps us to understand possible pathways leading to the origin of life. Our basic design for a synthetic cell involves the encapsulation of a spontaneously replicating nucleic acid, which acts as the genetic material, within a spontaneously replicating membrane vesicle, which provides spatial localization. We are using chemical synthesis to make nucleic acids with modified nucleobases and sugar-phosphate backbones.
Jack W. Szostak
We are, in a way, temporary ambulatory repositories for our nucleic acids. This does not deny our humanity; it does not prevent us from pursuing the good, the true and the beautiful. But it would be a great mistake to ignore where we have come from in our attempt to determine where we are going.
The results serve to disprove the tetranucleotide hypothesis. It is, however, noteworthy-whether this is more than accidental, cannot yet be said-that in all desoxypentose nucleic acids examined thus far the molar ratios of total purines to total pyrimidines, and also of adenine to thymine and of guanine to cytosine, were not far from 1.
One can say, looking at the papers in this symposium, that the elucidation of the genetic code is indeed a great achievement. It is, in a sense, the key to molecular biology because it shows how the great polymer languages, the nucleic acid language and the protein language, are linked together.
Chance alone is at the source of every innovaton, of all creation in the biosphere. Pure chance, only chance, absolute but blind liberty is at the root of the prodigious edifice that is evolution... It today is the sole conceivable hypothesis, the only one that squares with observed and tested fact. Stating life began by the chance collision of particles of nucleic acid in the "prebiotic soup."
We may, I believe, anticipate that the chemist of the future who is interested in the structure of proteins, nucleic acids, polysaccharides, and other complex substances with high molecular weight will come to rely upon a new structural chemistry, involving precise geometrical relationships among the atoms in the molecules and the rigorous application of the new structural principles, and that great progress will be made, through this technique, in the attack, by chemical methods, on the problems of biology and medicine.
It is, I believe, justifiable to make the generalization that anything an organic chemist can synthesize can be made without him. All he does is increase the probability that given reactions will 'go.' So it is quite reasonable to assume that given sufficient time and proper conditions, nucleotides, amino acids, proteins, and nucleic acids will arise by reactions that, though less probable, are as inevitable as those by which the organic chemist fulfills his predictions. So why not self-duplicating virus-like systems capable of further evolution?
George Wells Beadle
Few scientists acquainted with the chemistry of biological systems at the molecular level can avoid being inspired. Evolution has produced chemical compounds exquisitely organized to accomplish the most complicated and delicate of tasks. Many organic chemists viewing crystal structures of enzyme systems or nucleic acids and knowing the marvels of specificity of the immune systems must dream of designing and synthesizing simpler organic compounds that imitate working features of these naturally occurring compounds.