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Controversial Theory Says DNA Can Be Pushed To "Dark States"

ampant mutations and make an organized genetic structure possible.

But studies at OSU, which were done with highly sophisticated electron spectroscopy, showed that the alleged stability of the nucleic acid bases in DNA is largely a myth. "In their biological form, surrounded by other hydrogen-bonded bases, it's true that the nucleic acids which make up DNA are stable," Kong said. "But we found that living things, in their totality, provide an environment which creates that stability, through attachments within base pairs and/or with neighboring bases. These attachments allow damaging photonic energy to be released as heat. But a DNA base as an isolated molecule, just by itself, does not have that stability." In a compelling experiment, OSU scientists probed the fate of nucleic acid bases after laser irradiation in the ultraviolet range.

They found that the molecules – which react extraordinarily fast to ultraviolet light insults – could by themselves spend 20-300 nanoseconds in an unstable, vibrating "dark state" in which they could easily mutate and not fully recover from photonic damage. The lifetime of the dark state is not long – a nanosecond is one billionth of a second. But it's more than enough time for DNA mutations to happen, Kong said. And the existence of this dark state raised questions about how life ever could have begun, given that the genetic carriers were so easily mutated or destroyed during this very brief but very vulnerable time. "When the bases of DNA were first being formed billions of years ago, the atmosphere was actually quite hostile," Kong said. "It was a period prior to any protective ozone layer on Earth and the ultraviolet radiation was very strong. So if primordial DNA bases were forced into this vulnerable dark state, they should have incurred large amounts of photochemical damage that would have made the very survival of these bases difficult, let alone further evolution of life." Except for one other finding, that i
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