New Tech: Self-Assembling 3D Nano-Structures from DNA

NanotubesHarvard Medical School's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute team have constructed a self-assembling nanodevice from single-stranded DNA using a design principal known as tensegrity to lash double-helix struts together with single-stranded DNA. The strands interconnect the struts and pull the entire piece into a taught shape resembling a twisting prism. The structures can further be programmed to change shape on call, as well as move of their own accord.

While some nanotechnological advances are under FDA study for fears of tampering or tainting the human body, Harvard's DNA devices are biodegradable and biocompatible. In their lives as possible drug ferries, mimicking viruses to deliver lethal drugs to targeted cells, they pose much less threat of eventual problems than solid state deliver devices such as carbon nanotubes. Once their mission is complete, the DNA machines can be safely destroyed in-vitro, leaving no troublesome refuse.

Another possible use for the DNA constructs is the fine-tuning of cellular matrices to coax stem cells into becoming one type of cell or another. Stem cells differentiate their jobs in part by the the rigidity of their surrounding tissue. Stiff extracellular matrices can convince a stem cell to produce bone, while a more liquid mixture could generate neurons. Being able to fine-tune the shapes of the DNA devices could help to control the extracellular matrices, giving stem cells a preferred environment for a desirable piece of tissue growth.

Casey Kazan



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