Self-replication and Evolution of DNA Crystals

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Abstract

Is it possible to create a simple physical system that is capable of replicating itself? Can such a system evolve interesting behaviors, thus allowing it to adapt to a wide range of environments? This paper presents a design for such a replicator constructed exclusively from synthetic DNA. The basis for the replicator is crystal growth: information is stored in the spatial arrangement of monomers and copied from layer to layer by templating. Replication is achieved by fragmentation of crystals, which produces new crystals that carry the same information. Crystal replication avoids intrinsic problems associated with template-directed mechanisms for replication of one-dimensional polymers. A key innovation of our work is that by using programmable DNA tiles as the crystal monomers, we can design crystal growth processes that apply interesting selective pressures to the evolving sequences. While evolution requires that copying occur with high accuracy, we show how to adapt error-correction techniques from algorithmic self-assembly to lower the replication error rate as much as is required.