An experimental rationalization of the structure type encountered in DNA and RNA by systematically investigating the chemical and physical properties of alternative nucleic acids has identified systems with a variety of sugar-phosphate backbones that are capable of Watson-Crick base pairing and in some cases cross-pairing with the natural nucleic acids. The earliest among the model systems tested to date, (4' --> 6')-linked oligo(2',3'-dideoxy-beta-d-glucopyranosyl)nucleotides or homo-DNA, shows stable self-pairing, but the pairing rules for the four natural bases are not the same as those in DNA. However, a complete interpretation and understanding of the properties of the hexapyranosyl (4' --> 6') family of nucleic acids has been impeded until now by the lack of detailed 3D-structural data. We have determined the crystal structure of a homo-DNA octamer. It reveals a weakly twisted right-handed duplex with a strong inclination between the hexose-phosphate backbones and base-pair axes, and highly irregular values for helical rise and twist at individual base steps. The structure allows a rationalization of the inability of allo-, altro-, and glucopyranosyl-based oligonucleotides to form stable pairing systems.