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Genetics Unzipped podcast: Back to the beginning – Exploring the origins of life

Posted by , on 26 August 2021

In the latest episode of Genetics Unzipped we’re taking a trip back in a virtual time machine, soaking in the primordial soup to discover the origins of DNA, find out where genes come from and how some species have stolen theirs from viruses, and explore what’s next for the genetic code.

Experts think that the first step towards life was simply a molecule that was capable of self-replicating. As a geneticist, your mind might jump straight away to the most famous self-replicating molecule of them all, DNA. As we discover, that’s probably the least likely scenario, but what actually happened is still a hot topic of debate among researchers searching for the origins of life.

Moving from DNA to genes, as far as we can tell, all of life on earth evolved from one common ancestor, LUCA, which must have had one set of genes, whatever they looked like. But that leaves the question of how this simple set of genes diversified to encompass the incredible diversity of genes that now exist in trillions of extant and extinct species on earth. We look at where genes come from, and how we’ve managed to steal some from our mortal enemies, viruses.

Finally, you may think you know your A, C, T and G when it comes to DNA, but what about B, P, S and Z? We discover how the genetic code is expanding, thanks to Hachimoji DNA.

Genetics Unzipped is the podcast from The Genetics Society. Full transcript, links and references available online at

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