Knots are indispensable tools for such human activities as sailing, fishing and rock climbing, (not to mention, tying shoes). But tying a knot in a lacelike strand of DNA, measuring just billionths of a meter in length, requires patience and highly specialized expertise.

Hao Yan, a researcher at ASU, is a practiced hand in this delicate and exotic field, operating at the crossroads of nanotechnology and fine art.
In new research appearing in the journal Nature Communications, Yan and his colleagues Fei Zhang, Xiaodong Qi and others describe a method for coaxing segments of single-stranded DNA into complex 2- and 3D knotted structures.

The results represent an important advance in the fast-paced field of DNA nanotechnology, in which the molecule of life is used as a structural building material for a vast array of tiny configurations. Among these are miniscule robotic devices, photonic applications, drug delivery systems, logic gates, as well as diagnostic and therapeutic applications.

“The knotted DNA structures demonstrated in this work exhibit unprecedented topological complexity, far beyond what has been achieved before using single stranded folding,” Yan says. “Indeed, it is not only amazing but also surprising that the single-stranded DNA and RNA can thread through its own chains and find a way to form such highly knotted structures, given the fact that the single strand has to weave through so many tangles.”

Yan directs the Biodesign Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics and is the Martin D. Glick Distinguished Professor in the School of Molecular Sciences at ASU.


Image Credit:    Biodesign Institute

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