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DNA building blocks that change shape provide new tool for nanotechnology

Tetrahedrons made from DNA that extend and shorten in response to added short strands of DNA may provide new nanotech methods of drug delivery, but may present even more exciting possibilities for atomically precise functional nanosystems.

I feel like a broken record this week, only posting about DNA nanotechnology, but I won’t apologize because it’s such an exciting area. In this article from the New Scientist news service, Tom Simonite describes the latest advance from Andrew Turberfield and his colleagues. After pioneering the use of “fuel strands” to cause programmed movement in DNA nanostructures and building rigid tetrahedron from DNA, Turberfield now combines the two to change the shape of DNA tetrahedrons in a precisely controlled fashion. A few excerpts from “Remote-control DNA ‘pistons’ could power tiny robots“.

Nanoscopic DNA pyramids that change shape when sent different chemical signals, have been demonstrated by researchers in the UK and Germany. Such structures could act as the motors of nanoscale robots, they say.

Other researchers have previously built DNA devices capable of walking along proteins or functioning like nanoscopic robot arms, but precise control of these 3D structures has proven difficult.

Now Andrew Turberfield of Oxford University in the UK, and colleagues at the University of Bielefeld in Germany, have shown how carefully crafted DNA structures can be made to self assemble and change shape when sent specific DNA signals.

The research paper was published in Nature Nanotechnology and the abstract is available here. The potential of the work is described very well by the authors in their final paragraph (citation references in the orginal deleted):

We have demonstrated dynamic control of both angles and distances in three dimensions. Self-assembled three-dimensional actuators, laid out on planar templates created by the DNA origami technique, could provide an alternative to lithography in the fabrication of integrated nanomechanical devices. Shape changes could also be used to achieve triggered release of a cargo encapsulated in a DNA cage; the recent demonstration of protein encapsulation in a DNA tetrahedron suggests applications in drug delivery. Also, although the conformational changes demonstrated in this paper are simple, robotic devices capable of complex structural rearrangements may be assembled from multiple copies of simple reconfigurable modules.

—Jim

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