Combinatorial selection of nucleic acids has led to the discovery of novel ligands and catalysts that have implications for both chemistry and medicine. In the context of combinatorial chemistry, degenerate syntheses of nucleic acid libraries readily generate as many as 1015 different molecules in which a small percentage exhibit interesting binding and/or catalytic properties. The primary advantage of nucleic acids is that library coding is an intrinsic property; sequential composition directly determines the activity. At low temperatures, the sequential composition of single stranded nucleic acids governs folding into irregular tertiary structures resulting in interesting activities. At higher temperatures, the same structures are unfolded and decoded by polymerases to reveal sequential information. The use of PCR (polymerase chain reaction) permits amplification and thus enrichment of the selected activity which is then regenerated chemi-enzymatically. Iterative selection and amplification result in one of the highest throughput screens conceivable whereby each molecule encodes its own activity permitting the ultimate in parallel sampling. Finally, sequence information, and by extension the chemical composition, is obtained by simple sequencing techniques obviating the need for mass spectrometric deconvolution, parallel tagging, and/or large volumes needed for viral and cell culture. This review begins with an introduction of general concepts and considerations. The potential for nucleic acids to generate tight-binding ligands is of interest to structural biologists and medicinal chemists. The therapeutic implications to medicine are also touched upon. Since combinatorially selected nucleic acids and antibodies share many conceptual similarities, their respective advantages and limitations are compared. Theoretical and practical limitations for catalyst discovery are discussed along with the use of other chemical and physical approaches to address some current catalytic shortcomings. Finally some futu re directions are suggested.
Keywords: Nucleic acid, Recognition, Catalysis, Aptamers, Caffeine
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