Synthetic genetics is a subdiscipline of synthetic biology that aims to develop artificial genetic polymers (also referred to as xeno-nucleic acids or XNAs) that can replicate in vitro and eventually in model cellular organisms. This field of science combines organic chemistry with polymerase engineering to create alternative forms of DNA that can store genetic information and evolve in response to external stimuli. Practitioners of synthetic genetics postulate that XNA could be used to safeguard synthetic biology organisms by storing genetic information in orthogonal chromosomes. XNA polymers are also under active investigation as a source of nuclease resistant affinity reagents (aptamers) and catalysts (xenozymes) with practical applications in disease diagnosis and treatment. In this review, we provide a structural perspective on known antiparallel duplex structures in which at least one strand of the Watson-Crick duplex is composed entirely of XNA. Currently, only a handful of XNA structures have been archived in the Protein Data Bank as compared to the more than 100 000 structures that are now available. Given the growing interest in xenobiology projects, we chose to compare the structural features of XNA polymers and discuss their potential to access new regions of nucleic acid fold space.
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