Nanotechnologists are making use of DNA, the genetic material that is present in living organisms, as well as its multifunctional counterpart RNA, as the raw material in attempts to design miniscule devices that could potentially function as drug delivery vehicles, miniature nanofactories for the production of chemicals and pharmaceuticals, or extremely sensitive elements of optical and electric technologies.

Similar to genetic DNA (and RNA) in nature, these engineered nanotechnological devices are also composed of strands that comprise the four bases known in shorthand as A, C, T, and G. Regions within those strands can naturally fold and bind to each other via short complementary base sequences in which As from one sequence precisely bind to Ts from another sequence, and Cs to Gs. Researchers at the Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering and elsewhere have used these features to engineer self-assembling nanostructures such as scaffolded DNA origami and DNA bricks with ever-increasing sizes and complexities that are becoming beneficial for varied applications.

However, the translation of these structures into industrial and medical applications is still challenging, partly because these multi-stranded systems are susceptible to local defects as a result of missing stands. Furthermore, they self-assemble from hundreds to thousands of separate DNA sequences that each need to be confirmed and tested for high-precision applications, and whose costly synthesis repeatedly produces undesired by-products.

Image Credit:  Molgraphics

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