Researchers are exploiting the structural properties of DNA to build nanoscale models for use in medicine and materials science. Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Researchers are exploiting the structural properties of DNA to build nanoscale models for use in medicine and materials science. Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

By XiaoZhi Lim
Nature

Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night is a classic of post-Impressionist art. Its whimsical whorls have entranced art lovers since the Dutch artist painted it in 1889. In 2016, Ashwin Gopinath, a bioengineer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, recreated the work. But instead of oils, he drew his copy in DNA.

Drawn on a silicon chip, Gopinath’s creation demonstrates the growing power of a once-obscure branch of materials science: DNA nanotechnology. The field emerged in the 1990s when scientists began to dream up nanoscale machines. Today, more than 300 research groups are trying to harness the base-pairing properties of DNA, with the goal of manipulating the molecule as if it were a building material, rather than a carrier of genetic information.

“Once we started to realize that you can use the information in DNA to organize stuff, it started a cascade of activity,” says Ned Seeman, a synthetic chemist at New York University who is widely acknowledged to be the founder of DNA nanotechnology.

DNA’s dimensions make it ideal for building nanostructures: the double helix is a flexible, configurable rod, 2 nanometres wide, with a twist that repeats every 3.4–3.6 nm. Researchers have exploited the well-characterized structure, and the ease of synthesizing custom DNA, to build ever-more-elaborate designs for applications from drug delivery and diagnostics to nanofabrication. But challenges remain, and nanotechnologists are rethinking the fundamentals of building with DNA.

 

Continue reading at Nature. Originally published on June 29, 2017.

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