Taking inspiration from the way that bacteria send messages to each other through electromagnetic waves, Dr. Matthew Baker and Dr. Shelley Wickham have developed a new way of creating and moving droplets of DNA-infused water. This process could make it possible to store and retrieve genetic information in a biological computer, and enable the creation of small, biological sensing devices and vaccines.
What did they do?
The team used a computer-assisted design approach that consolidated 10 years of published experimental data into a set of rules for designing and building DNA nanostructures. It then tested the design rules using synthetic liposomes, which it found could be manipulated using the designed DNA ‘nanostructures.’ Liposomes are tiny spheres of fats and other molecules. It might be possible to change their structure so that they can carry out much more complex tasks, like carrying drugs directly to the places in the body where they’re needed.
However, scientists used to work in test tubes, so finding the right buffer conditions for lipids and liposomes to make sure that their DNA ‘computers’ actually stuck to liposomes was a real struggle. Dr. Matt worked out how to label the blocks of lipids, the main components of cells, with cholesterol to get them to stick to cell walls. They also had trouble determining how to add cholesterols to the DNA so it would not only successfully reach the membrane but bind to it for a longer period of time.
According to Dr. Baker, membranes are vital to life as they allow different types of cells to operate independently of one another, with their own individual purposes. Membranes are also central to how cells communicate with each other, and how one cell can make something useful and then export it such that it can be used elsewhere. In disease, pathogens can attack cells by disrupting membranes or sneaking into them to replicate themselves. Based on this vitality and impermeability of membranes, Dr. Baker and his team built a new DNA-based technology that opens holes in membranes that block signaling between cells. Thereby, aiding the transmission of signals swiftly through membranes.
The nanostructures produced by this team have their own flexibility. Nanostructures have recently been applied in a wide range of applications owing to the unique properties exhibited by these structures. In particular, manipulation of their size and shape has been explored to obtain functionality from them. However, the individualized attachment of nanostructures has been a major challenge in consolidating them into effectively functional assembles. Herein, we show that molecular tethers can be programmed to self-assemble into extremely organized nanostructures with controllable sizes and shapes.
This method has several potential applications. One is for biosensing. In this application, you could place a drop of this material in a person’s bloodstream and the droplets would record the chemical environment as it moves through the body. As a result, liposome nanotechnology has shot into prominence with the use of liposomes alongside RNA vaccines. Furthermore, these researchers are planning to put DNA-based pores that can be triggered with light into synthetic retinas.
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