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Expanded DNA alphabet provides more options for nanotechnology

Posted by Jim Lewis on May 14th, 2014

Floyd E. Romesberg, associate professor at Scripps Research (Credit: The Scripps Research Institute)

Long-time readers of Nanodot may remember the section of Chapter 15 of Nanosystems in which Drexler explores options for producing easier to design proteins for the protein engineering path toward atomically precise manufacturing by incorporating specially chosen amino acids in addition to the 20 genetically encoded amino acids. Back in 1992 the only option for incorporating unnatural amino acids into proteins was Merrifield solid phase peptide synthesis, using the methods of organic chemistry rather than biological systems. However, this becomes problematic and expensive for longer chains. Consequently, finding ways to expand the repertoire of biologically encoded amino acids would be quite useful. One way to accomplish this goal would be to expand the DNA ‘alphabet’ from two to three base pairs (that is, from four to six ‘letters’). We noted progress in this direction back in February of 2008 when Floyd Romesberg, at the Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California created two artificial DNA letters that were accurately and efficiently replicated by a natural enzyme. In September of 2011 we noted a different approach taken by a team at the Salk Institute that keeps the current DNA alphabet but alters one three-letter word to mean an unnatural amino acid, increasing the amino acid repertoire by one. We noted in June of 2012 that continued work by Romesberg had revealed how the new base pair was efficiently replicated in the test tube by a natural enzyme. In a major advance, Romesberg and his collaborators have engineered a living organism to stably propagate the expanded genetic alphabet. The research was published in Nature [abstract] and was nicely described in a news article in Science by Robert F. Service “Designer Microbes Expand Life’s Genetic Alphabet“:

From bacteria to basketball players, all life as we know it encodes genetic information using two pairs of DNA letters. Not anymore. Now, along with the double helix’s two natural pairs—A bound to T and G bound to C—a bacterium growing in a California lab can incorporate and copy a third, artificial pair of letters. For now, the artificial bases—call them X and Y—don’t code for anything, unlike natural DNA base pairs, which in various combinations code for the 20 different amino acids that make up proteins. But the newly expanded genetic code opens the door for synthetic biologists to create microbes capable of building their proteins out of as many as 172 different amino acids, both natural and artificial—a potential boon to drug and materials developers. …

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Nanotechnology to provide efficient, inexpensive water desalination

Posted by Jim Lewis on May 12th, 2014

Credit: O’Hern, S. C. et al./Nano Letters

Another area in which incremental nanotechnology is poised to make a major contribution to human welfare through increasing control of the atomic structure of bulk materials is Supplying Clean Water Globally. Two recent reports use slightly different chemistries to achieve similar results: water desalination and purification.

KurzweilAI describes research in which gallium ions and oxidative etching were used to create sub-nanometer diameter holes in single layer graphene membranes “Selective nanopores in graphene dramatically improve desalination and purification“:

A team of researchers at MIT, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and in Saudi Arabia succeeded in creating subnanoscale pores in a sheet of graphene, a development that could lead to ultrathin filters for improved desalination or water purification. Their findings are published in the journal Nano Letters. [abstract]

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Nanotechnology to provide better solar cells, optical devices

Posted by Jim Lewis on May 9th, 2014

Electron microscope picture of wurtzite GaAs/AlGaAs core-shell nanowires. Credit: Dr. Dheeraj Dasa and Prof. Helge Weman, NTNU

While we work for the eventual development of a nanotechnology that transforms human life via atomically precise manufacturing, the partial control of the configuration of atoms in important materials that is afforded by current nanotechnology promises great near-term advantages. A decade ago, Foresight focused on progress in nanotechnology to meet six major challenges faced by humanity. Although we haven’t said as much the past several years about these challenges (except for #3, Improving Health and Longevity), recent progress promises great contributions to the other challenges as well. Challenge #1, Providing Renewable Clean Energy, appears soon to profit from advances in controlling the atomic configuration of gallium arsenide nanowires. Patrick Cox’s Tech Digest reports on “Building a Better Solar Cell One Atom at a Time“. Citing work by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology working with IBM engineers to grow gallium arsenide nanowires on graphene, he concludes:

… With a better understanding of how, atom by atom, a panel’s composition could be manipulated to achieve maximum output, solar-panel technology of the future promises to become lighter and more portable, as well as easier to manufacture and maintain. …

A hat tip to ScienceDaily for providing more details by reprinting news published by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology “Better Solar Cells, Better LED Light And Vast Optical Possibilities“:

Changes at the atom level in nanowires offer vast possibilities for improvement of solar cells and LED light. NTNU-researchers have discovered that by tuning a small strain on single nanowires they can become more effective in LEDs and solar cells.

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A bird's-eye view of half a century of nanotechnology

Posted by Jim Lewis on May 7th, 2014

The Foresight Institute was founded on the vision of nanotechnology put forward by Eric Drexler in his 1986 popular science work Engines of Creation, and clarified in his 1992 technical study Nanosystems. For the flavor of thinking about nanotechnology around 1987, see here and here. We’ve mentioned Drexler’s new book Radical Abundance here on Nanodot several times during the past year, for example here. Over at The Freeman, Phil Bowermaster discusses Radical Abundance in the context of the conversation about nanotechnology over the past 28 years — “The Reluctant Visionary“:

In 1959, Richard Feynman delivered a lecture with the provocative title “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” Speaking at a meeting of the American Physical Society at Caltech, the Nobel-laureate-to-be speculated about the possibility of manipulating matter at the atomic level via exquisitely small machines. Would it be possible, Feynman asked, for such machinery to configure atoms themselves, producing atomically precise outputs? Might we one day have billions of submicroscopic factories working in parallel to produce anything and everything we need?

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To fight inflammation nanoparticles turn 'naughty' neutrophils into 'nice' neutrophils

Posted by Jim Lewis on May 1st, 2014

Bottom right shows green-labeled neutrophils with red-labeled nanoparticles inside, which appear yellow. Credit University of Illinois at Chicago

A core advantage of nanomedicine is that appropriately designed nanoparticles can be targeted to deliver drugs to a very specific subset of cells in the body. An elegant example of specificity targets immune cells called neutrophils that are actively involved in damaging vascular inflammation while sparing neutrophils in circulation that are needed for other functions. A hat tip to Science Daily for reprinting this University of Illinois at Chicago news release written by Sharon Parmet “Nanoparticles target anti-inflammatory drugs where needed“:

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have developed a system for precisely delivering anti-inflammatory drugs to immune cells gone out of control, while sparing their well-behaved counterparts. Their findings were published online Feb. 23 in Nature Nanotechnology [abstract].

The system uses nanoparticles made of tiny bits of protein designed to bind to unique receptors found only on neutrophils, a type of immune cell engaged in detrimental acute and chronic inflammatory responses.

In a normal immune response, neutrophils circulating in the blood respond to signals given off by injured or damaged blood vessels and begin to accumulate at the injury, where they engulf bacteria or debris from injured tissue that might cause infection. In chronic inflammation, neutrophils can pile up at the site of injury, sticking to the blood vessel walls and to each other and contributing to tissue damage.

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Novel nanoparticle efficiently silences gene expression in liver cells

Posted by Jim Lewis on April 29th, 2014

MIT engineers designed nanoparticles that can deliver short strands of RNA (green) into cells (nuclei are stained blue). Image credit: Gaurav Sahay, Yizhou Dong, and Omid Veiseh

One of the most promising weapons in the arsenal of today’s nanomedicine is to use specially designed nanoparticles to deliver siRNA to specific cells to exploit the power of RNA interference to silence the expression of specific genes. We have cited here progress in using various types of nanoparticles with some success in animal models of different diseases. A novel approach that combines systematic chemical modification of lipopeptides with inspiration provided by natural cholesterol-carrying particles appears close to clinical trials. A hat tip to ScienceDaily for reprinting this MIT news release written by Anne Trafton “Better RNA interference, inspired by nature“:

Inspired by tiny particles that carry cholesterol through the body, MIT chemical engineers have designed nanoparticles that can deliver snippets of genetic material that turn off disease-causing genes.

This approach, known as RNA interference (RNAi), holds great promise for treating cancer and other diseases. However, delivering enough RNA to treat the diseased tissue, while avoiding side effects in the rest of the body, has proven difficult.

The new MIT particles, which encase short strands of RNA within a sphere of fatty molecules and proteins, silence target genes in the liver more efficiently than any previous delivery system, the researchers found in a study of mice.

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Physicists suppress 'stiction' force that bedevils microscale machinery

Posted by Jim Lewis on April 19th, 2014

Credit: Intravaia et al.

Whether or not MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) technology has use as a development path toward productive nanosystems, or atomically precise manufacturing (see for example this series of posts on the Feynman Path by J. Storrs Hall), the problem of stiction in microscale mechanical systems has been used as a canard to criticize proposals for mechanical molecular machine systems. (For why this criticism is unfounded, see section 6.3.7 of Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines.) Nevertheless, MEMS is in its own right a very useful technology so it is gratifying to see that a solution to the stiction problem may be in sight. A hat tip to Dale Amon for pointing to this physics archive blog article “US Nuclear Weapons Laboratory Discovers How to Suppress the Casimir Force“:

The Casimir effect causes microscopic machines to stick fast. Now physicists have successfully tested a way to suppress this force

The Casimir effect is a strange and mysterious force that operates on the tiniest scales. It pushes together small metal objects when they are separated by a tiny distance.

That’s a problem because engineers are increasingly interested in building tiny machines with parts that move against each other on precisely the scale. For some years now, they’ve been thwarted by a problem called stiction in which the tiny cogs, gears and other parts in these machines stick together so tightly that the device stops working.

The culprit in these strange stiction events is often the Casimir effect. But since it is poorly understood, physicists and engineers have never known how to prevent it.

That looks set to change thanks to the work of Francesco Intravaia at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and a few pals who have discovered a way to reduce this force and showed that it works for the first time. …

The research paper “Strong Casimir force reduction through metallic surface nanostructuring” is available at arxiv.org. The authors conclude that despite their successes achieved here, a full numerical analysis of the complexities of stiction in MEMS “remains an open problem.” Fortunately we already know that this does not have to be problem in a properly designed molecular machine system, even if implemented with diamondoid parts fashioned as nanoscale versions of macroscale machine parts.
—James Lewis, PhD

US government report highlights flaws in US nanotechnology effort

Posted by Jim Lewis on April 1st, 2014

Credit: GAO adapted from Executive Office of the President

Here at Nanodot we often report on basic research that may lie on the path to atomically precise manufacturing, and we also frequently report on nanoscale science and technology research that promises near-term revolutionary developments in medicine, computation, energy and other application areas, but we seldom have anything to say about the transition from research to commercial production. The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) is worried about this same lack, and has identified an important nanotechnology policy gap. Last month Business Insider Australia reported “A New Report Warns That America May Lose The Nanotechnology Race“:

VACUUM TUBES, semiconductors and the internet have changed how we live; now nanotechnology promises a similar revolution. Nanocoatings that make it impossible for liquid to even touch a treated surface are transforming material science. Carbon nanotubes can help artificial muscles behave like the real thing, while nanoscale drug delivery can target cancer cells with deadly accuracy. Concrete infused with nanofibres can be self-sensing, enabling roads and bridges to be monitored remotely for structural weakness or traffic volumes. …

It is this breadth of nanotechnology’s potential that makes it vital to America’s future competitiveness. Congressman Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, believes that American dominance in the field has enormous economic potential and the ability to create new jobs: “it’s a game-changer that could transform and improve Americans’ daily lives in ways we can’t foresee,” he says.

On any measure — patents, private and government-sector investment, academic activity — America has so far been a leader in nanotechnology research and, to a lesser extent, development. …

So why is the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent agency that works for Congress and scrutinises how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars, now fretting that America may lose the nanotechnology race? In a new report on nanotechnology manufacturing (or nanomanufacturing) released today and prepared for Congressman Smith’s committee, the GAO finds flaws in America’s approach to many things nano. …

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Programmable nanoprocessors integrated into a nanowire nanocomputer

Posted by Jim Lewis on March 30th, 2014

Credit: Yao et al. Proc Nat Acad Sci USA

Three years ago we noted “the world’s first programmable nanoprocessor” achieved by a collaboration between Harvard and MITRE [also, see further details here]. This year the same interdisciplinary team has taken further key steps toward a functioning nanoelectronic computer based on integrating several of the tiles that they first reported three years ago. A hat tip to KurzweilAI for reprinting this news release from MITRE “MITRE-Harvard Team’s Ultra-tiny Nanocomputer May Point the Way to Further Miniaturization in Industry“:

An interdisciplinary team of scientists and engineers from The MITRE Corporation and Harvard University has taken key steps toward ultra-small electronic computer systems that push beyond the imminent end of Moore’s Law, which states that the device density and overall processing power for computers will double every two to three years. In a paper … in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [abstract; full text PDF courtesy of the Lieber Research Group], the team describes how they designed and assembled, from the bottom up, a functioning, ultra-tiny control computer that is the densest nanoelectronic system ever built.

The ultra-small, ultra-low-power control processor—termed a nanoelectronic finite-state machine or “nanoFSM”—is smaller than a human nerve cell. It is composed of hundreds of nanowire transistors, each of which is a switch about ten-thousand times thinner than a human hair. The nanowire transistors use very little power because they are “nonvolatile.” That is, the switches remember whether they are on or off, even when no power is supplied to them.

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Bigger, stiffer, roomier molecular cages from structural DNA nanotechnology

Posted by Jim Lewis on March 29th, 2014

The five cage-shaped DNA polyhedra here have struts stabilizing their legs, and this innovation allowed a Wyss Institute team to build by far the largest and sturdiest DNA cages yet. The largest, a hexagonal prism (right), is one-tenth the size of an average bacterium. Credit: Yonggang Ke/Harvard's Wyss Institute

The use of structural DNA nanotechnology to build atomically precise scaffolds for positioning systems of molecular machines and other nanoscale functional elements [see, for example "Advancing nanotechnology by organizing functional components on addressable DNA scaffolds"] took a large step forward with the recent demonstration of the ability to build large, rigid three-dimensional DNA cages. The key innovation was the use of DNA origami to make struts to stabilize corners. A hat tip to ScienceDaily for reprinting this news release from Harvard University’s Wyss Institute “Roomy cages built from DNA“:

Move over, nanotechnologists, and make room for the biggest of the small. Scientists at the Harvard’s Wyss Institute have built a set of self-assembling DNA cages one-tenth as wide as a bacterium. The structures are some of the largest and most complex structures ever constructed solely from DNA, they report today’s online edition of Science [abstract].

Moreover, the scientists visualized them using a DNA-based super-resolution microscopy method — and obtained the first sharp 3D optical images of intact synthetic DNA nanostructures in solution.

In the future, scientists could potentially coat the DNA cages to enclose their contents, packaging drugs for delivery to tissues. And, like a roomy closet, the cage could be modified with chemical hooks that could be used to hang other components such as proteins or gold nanoparticles. This could help scientists build a variety of technologies, including tiny power plants, miniscule factories that produce specialty chemicals, or high-sensitivity photonic sensors that diagnose disease by detecting molecules produced by abnormal tissue.

“I see exciting possibilities for this technology,” said Peng Yin, Ph.D., a Core Faculty member at the Wyss Institute and Assistant Professor of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, and senior author of the paper.

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Chemists provide new tool for nanotechnology-modifying the right carbon atom

Posted by Jim Lewis on March 27th, 2014

Credit: The Yu Lab, The Scripps Research Institute

Advancements targeted to improving medical care continue to provide tools that could advance development of high throughput atomically precise manufacturing. In the latest example, chemists have developed a method to add a functional group to a specific carbon atom several atoms away from a given atom. A hat tip to ScienceDaily for reprinting this news release from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) “Building New Drugs Just Got Easier“:

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have developed a method for modifying organic molecules that significantly expands the possibilities for developing new pharmaceuticals and improving old ones.

“This is a technology that can be applied directly to many medicinally relevant compounds,” said Jin-Quan Yu, a professor in TSRI’s Department of Chemistry and the senior author of the new report, which appears in Nature March 13, 2014. [abstract]

The innovation makes it easier to modify existing organic compounds by attaching biologically active “functional group” to drug molecules. A typical small-molecule drug derives its activity from such functional groups, which are bound to a relatively simple backbone structure consisting chiefly of carbon atoms.

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Notes on 2014 Foresight nanotechnology conference

Posted by Jim Lewis on March 7th, 2014

17th Foresight Conference: “The Integration Conference
February 7-9, 2014
Crowne Plaza Cabana Hotel, Palo Alto
Silicon Valley, California, USA

Conference Co-Chairs:
Rob Meagley, Founder, ONE Nanotechnologies
William A. Goddard, Director, Materials and Process Simulation Center, Caltech

Roadmap Keynote: The Roadmap to Success
Paolo Gargini, ITRS Chairman, Former Intel Fellow and Director of Technology Strategy
Entrepreneurship Keynote: Disruptive Innovation and Accelerating Change
Steve Jurvetson, Managing Director of Draper, Fisher, Jurvetson
Integration Keynote: Nanotechnology: Development of Practical Systems and Nano-Micro-Macro Integration
Meyya Meyyappan, Chief Scientist for Exploration Technology NASA Ames Research Center
Government Keynote: Nanomanufacturing: Emergence and Implications on U.S. Competitiveness, the Environment, and Human Health
Timothy M. Persons, Chief Scientist, U.S. Government Accountability Office

“Integration” was the theme of the 2014 Foresight Technical Conference, and the invited speakers covered a broad range of scopes. Within the human scope, topics included the integration of nanoscale technologies into social, political, and economic spheres. Within the technical scope, topics included the integration of atomic and molecular parts into nanoscale structures and devices, as well as into existing and projected commercial products. The following comments derive mainly from technical-scope topics.

There were a number of striking examples of integration on the technical level, including this year’s winner of the Feynman Prize for Experimental work, Alex Zettl of UC Berkeley. His functional radio system that exploits the oscillations of a single carbon nanotube may have applications in single atom detection as well. Advancing towards quantum computing and devices, Michelle Simmons of University of New South Wales described her fabrication process that uses a combination of atomic placement and tightly localized chemical transfers that position individual atoms in predictable locations leading to, for example, precise alignment of a single row of dopant atoms in a 3D silicon framework.

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Will crowdsourced RNA designs advance nanotechnology?

Posted by Jim Lewis on March 6th, 2014

An RNA design produced by a player of the online EteRNA design game (credit: CMU)

Back in July of 2012 we noted here the advent of a new online game that allows players to design RNA molecules, and wondered whether it could be part of a crowd-sourced, citizen science path toward high throughput, atomically precise manufacturing. It turns out that this group of game-players, with the benefit of feedback from lab experiments, has consistently outperformed the best available computerized design algorithms. A hat tip to KurzweilAI for reprinting this press release from Carnegie Mellon University “Crowdsourced RNA Designs Outperform Computer Algorithms, Carnegie Mellon and Stanford Researchers Report“:

An enthusiastic group of non-experts, working through an online interface and receiving feedback from lab experiments, has produced designs for RNA molecules that are consistently more successful than those generated by the best computerized design algorithms, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford University report.

Moreover, the researchers gathered some of the best design rules and practices generated by players of the online EteRNA design challenge and, using machine learning principles, generated their own automated design algorithm, EteRNABot, which also bested prior design algorithms. Though this improved computer design tool is faster than humans, the designs it generates still don’t match the quality of those of the online community, which now has more than 130,000 members.

The research [was] published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [open access article]

“The quality of the designs produced by the online EteRNA community is just amazing and far beyond what any of us anticipated when we began this project three years ago,” said Adrien Treiulle, an assistant professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon, who leads the project with Rhiju Das, an assistant professor of biochemistry at Stanford, and Jeehyung Lee, a Ph.D. student in computer science at Carnegie Mellon.

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In mice, nanoparticle reduces inflammation in atherosclerotic plaques

Posted by Jim Lewis on March 5th, 2014

Mount Sinai's novel HDL nanoparticle (red), loaded with a statin drug, specifically targets and locally treats inflammatory macrophage cells (green) hiding inside high-risk plaque within blood vessels. Credit: Mount Sinai

Nanoparticles designed for drug delivery run the gamut from very artificial components like gold or specially designed RNA to particles that adapt or mimic naturally occurring nanoparticles. A noteworthy example of the latter is adapting biology’s “good cholesterol”, the high-density lipoprotein particle, to deliver anti-inflammatory drugs to prevent recurrent heart attacks and strokes. A hat tip to Newswise for reprinting this Mount Sinai news release “Novel Nanotherapy Breakthrough May Help Reduce Recurrent Heart Attacks and Stroke“:

Up to 30 percent of heart attack patients suffer a new heart attack because cardiologists are unable to control inflammation inside heart arteries — the process that leads to clots rupturing and causing myocardial infarction or stroke.

But a report in Nature Communications [abstract] by Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai scientists showcases the development of a new technology that may provide a solution to this high risk of repeat heart attacks — and potentially help save more lives.

An international research team, led by Mount Sinai investigators, designed and tested a high-density lipoprotein (HDL) nanoparticle loaded with a statin drug. In mouse studies, they show this HDL nanotherapy is capable of directly targeting and lowering dangerous inflammation in blood vessels.

Not only could the HDL nanotherapy potentially avert repeat heart attacks, it may also have the power to reduce recurrent strokes caused by clots in brain arteries, says the study’s senior investigator, Willem Mulder, PhD, Associate Professor of Radiology in the Translational and Molecular Imaging Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

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Better nanoswitches by integrating double and triple strand DNA

Posted by Jim Lewis on January 28th, 2014

Credit: Marco Tripodi

The road from simple nanomaterials and nanodevices to atomically precise manufacturing will involve integrating these simple components into ever more complex and capable systems. The early stages of such integration will also advance current and near-future nanotechnology across multiple application areas, as will be explored in the the Integration Conference, February 7-9, 2014, in Palo Alto, California. A hat tip to Nanotechnology Now for news of this advance from researchers in Rome, Santa Barbara, and Montreal that integrates two basic interactions that have been exploited in DNA nanotechnology—Watson–Crick base pairing and triplex-forming Hoogsteen interactions—to form more sensitive and accurate nanoswitches. From a Université de Montréal press release “DNA clamp to grab cancer before it develops

As part of an international research project, a team of researchers has developed a DNA clamp that can detect mutations at the DNA level with greater efficiency than methods currently in use. Their work could facilitate rapid screening of those diseases that have a genetic basis, such as cancer, and provide new tools for more advanced nanotechnology. The results of this research is published this month in the journal ACS Nano [abstract].

Toward a new generation of screening tests

An increasing number of genetic mutations have been identified as risk factors for the development of cancer and many other diseases. Several research groups have attempted to develop rapid and inexpensive screening methods for detecting these mutations. “The results of our study have considerable implications in the area of diagnostics and therapeutics,” says Professor Francesco Ricci, “because the DNA clamp can be adapted to provide a fluorescent signal in the presence of DNA sequences having mutations with high risk for certain types cancer. The advantage of our fluorescence clamp, compared to other detection methods, is that it allows distinguishing between mutant and non-mutant DNA with much greater efficiency. This information is critical because it tells patients which cancer(s) they are at risk for or have.”

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Integrating DNA nanotechnology and RNA to transport nanoparticles along nanotubes

Posted by Jim Lewis on January 21st, 2014

Credit: Purdue University image/Tae-Gon Cha

Another recent nanotechnology research advance in line with the theme of next month’s “Foresight Technical Conference: Integration“, integrating nanodevices and nanomaterials into more complex systems, is the combination of a DNA walker motor, RNA fuel, a carbon nanotube track, and a nanoparticle cargo, all mimicking the biological molecular machinery of protein motors using ATP fuel to walk along microtubule tracks (also made of protein) inside cells. A hat tip to ScienceDaily for reprinting this Purdue University press release written by Emil Venere “DNA motor ‘walks’ along nanotube, transports tiny particle:”

Researchers have created a new type of molecular motor made of DNA and demonstrated its potential by using it to transport a nanoparticle along the length of a carbon nanotube.

The design was inspired by natural biological motors that have evolved to perform specific tasks critical to the function of cells, said Jong Hyun Choi, a Purdue University assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

Whereas biological motors are made of protein, researchers are trying to create synthetic motors based on DNA, the genetic materials in cells that consist of a sequence of four chemical bases: adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine. The walking mechanism of the synthetic motors is far slower than the mobility of natural motors. However, the natural motors cannot be controlled, and they don’t function outside their natural environment, whereas DNA-based motors are more stable and might be switched on and off, Choi said.

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RNA nanotechnology - fewer structures in living cells than in test tubes

Posted by Jim Lewis on January 14th, 2014

Image courtesy of the researchers

Next month’s “Foresight Technical Conference: Integration” will explore the integration of nanoengineered devices and materials into more complex systems across several application areas. The session on “Bionano Systems” will include a talk on “Molecular Folding Science” focusing on peptoids as an approach to creating the 3D molecular architectures that will be important for both current applications and the eventual development of high-throughput atomically precise manufacturing systems. Another folding-polymer approach that we have written about here is RNA nanotechnology, which provides a great variety of complex 3D structures. A new combination of computational and experimental approaches helps to identify which of these numerous conformations are likely to be useful. A hat tip to Bioscience Technology for reprinting this MIT news release “Unusual suspects“:

Computer models plus observations of RNA inside a cell help scientists home in on a short list of interesting RNA ‘machines.’

DNA stores the information of life, proteins provide the action, and in between sits elusive RNA, which serves both as a database of information and as a molecular machine. RNA is more flexible than DNA, and its three-dimensional structures are more complex than proteins. When studied in the laboratory, RNA bends into so many convolutions that it is nearly impossible to tease out which folds are worthy of scientific inquiry and which can safely be ignored.

New collaborative work from computational biologists at MIT and experimental biologists at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), however, is easing that distinction by combining computational and experimental approaches to identifying biologically meaningful RNA folds. The work, published this week in Nature [abstract], could open the door to a better understanding of RNA machinery — which ranges from the ribosome, a molecular factory that manufactures proteins, to microRNAs and riboswitches, tiny devices that regulate gene expression, to long noncoding RNAs whose diverse functions are only beginning to be understood.

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2014 Foresight Technical Conference: Sessions and Speakers

Posted by candice on December 23rd, 2013

2014 Foresight Technical Conference: Integration —February 7-9, 2014

www.foresight.org/conference

Early registration rates and reduced hotel rates are available for a limited time.

Conference Co-Chairs:

Robert P. Meagley, CEO/CTO, ONE Nanotechnologies

William A. Goddard III, Director, Materials and Process Simulation Center, Caltech

Keynote Speakers:

Meyya Meyyappan, Chief Scientist for Exploration Technology, NASA Ames Research Center

Paolo Gargini, ITRS Chairman, Former Intel VP of Technology Strategy

Steve Jurvetson, Managing Director of Draper, Fisher, Jurvetson

Planned Sessions include:

bionano2014tech
Computation and Molecular Nanotechnolgies
Trigate
selforg2014tech

Self-Organizing & Adaptive Systems

Cliff Henderson, Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology

Robert P. Meagley, CEO/CTO, ONE Nanotechnologies

Ulrich Wiesner, Professor, Cornell University

New Report: Nano-solutions for the 21st century

Posted by Stephanie C on December 20th, 2013

A recently released technology report titled Nano-solutions for the 21st century outlines nanotech-based solutions to global challenges. Several years in the making, the report was co-authored by Dennis Pamlin, Research Fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Research Center for Sustainable Development (RCSD web site currently in Chinese only), and Eric Drexler, Academic Visitor with the Oxford Martin School’s Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology and author of Radical Abundance. The report has a strongly international perspective, and the Abstract is presented in both English and Chinese.

The core technological emphasis of the report is atomically precise manufacturing, and even those most familiar with the topic will find the breadth of this report compelling and informative. The report discusses — in reader-friendly presentations – a number of broader issues, such as:

  • shifts in thinking about the roles of new technologies (from creating specific technological capabilities to creating enabling technologies intended to support further technological advancements),
  • the surprising value of atomically imprecise technologies,
  • the leverage gained by applying defined criteria and metrics to the evaluation of research results and progress,
  • how funding and policy shape incentives and carry unintended consequences (some desirable, some not), and
  • simple actions that can be taken today to effect positive change.

A number of concrete examples are presented to illustrate concepts and conclusions.
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Open Access journals for nanotechnology and other topics

Posted by Jim Lewis on December 19th, 2013

One of the frustrating aspects of covering an emerging interdisciplinary technology like nanotechnology on a low budget is that some of the most interesting research is sequestered behind a pay wall. Press releases and abstracts usually do not provide enough depth to really appreciate what was done. Some authors make their papers available on their own web sites, and in many cases emailing a request to the corresponding author will result in receipt of a complementary PDF. Another great help in keeping abreast is the growing list of Open Access journals. How to find them? This recently from Sally Roy:

I’m a researcher with an academic resource site for college students. I recently visited your site — foresight.org — while working on a guide to open access journals, and thought you might be interested in checking it out. The guide includes a curated list of free, peer reviewed journals and journal databases from a number of disciplines.

We put this together knowing that people like the convenience of online research even though it can return questionable results. Our hope is to let students and professionals know that there’s actually a lot of good information out there, it’s just a matter of knowing where to find it. …

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