A Team of Researchers Has Developed Self-healing DNA Nanostructures

This team of researchers has managed to develop a method of repairing DNA nanostructures.

A Team of Researchers Has Developed Self-healing DNA Nanostructures
DNA nanostructures Pixabay

A team of researchers has managed to develop DNA nanostructures that have the incredible ability to repair themselves in a serum. DNA nanostructures are interesting things and they could, someday, be used to build things like DNA computers or have applications in nanomedicine of the future.

The report can be found in the ACS' journal Nano Letters.

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What are DNA nanostructures?

DNA nanostructures are tiny structures, like tubes or origami-inspired shapes, made entirely out of DNA. These incredible structures could have important applications from DNA-based computers to nanomedicine.

This could be particularly revolutionary for computing as traditional transistors are liable to leak electrical current the smaller they get. DNA-based systems could potentially provide a method of overcoming the limitations of ever smaller transistors in the future.

In medicine, nanostructures could also be revolutionary. Doctors of the future could introduce DNA nanostructures into a patient to help diagnose diseases or deliver medicines, amongst many others.

But they have one big Achilles heel. DNA nanostructures tend to be very short-lived in nature, especially in biological environments. 

This is because they, being DNA, are very vulnerable to degradation from enzymes called nucleases. But one research team appears to have found a potential way of making them self-repair in a serum. 

What did the researchers discover?

As we have seen DNA nanostructures have a lot of potentials, but their susceptibility to nucleases is a serious problem that needs to be overcome. For them to be of any real utility in the future a method of protecting them or enabling them to repair any damage is of vital importance. 

And some work has already been done. Mitigation methods have been developed using several approaches to stabilize the structures in serum through chemically modifying or coating the DNA. 

DNA nanostructures
Source: Pixabay

But, these existing methods of stabilizing DNA nanostructures is both time-consuming and, more importantly, expensive. Plus, any modifications of this nature also run the risk of the affecting the nanostructures biocompatibility and intended function.

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This led the researchers including Yi Li and Rebecca Schulman, to want to develop a self-repair process that could substantially extend the lifetime of DNA nanostructures.

The researchers were able to design DNA nanotubes that could, astonishingly, self-assemble from smaller, so-called, DNA "tiles". However, these structures, in serum at body temperature, did de-grade within 24 hours

But, importantly, when the researchers added extra DNA "tiles" to the serum the building blocks appeared to repair the damaged structures. This enabled the nanostructures to extend their lifetimes by up to 96 hours.

The researchers labeled the original nanotubes, and DNA "tiles", with differently colored fluorescent dyes. With this technique, they found observed that the extra DNA "tiles" did indeed repair the degraded structures by replaced damaged sections of the structures and joining at the nanotube ends.

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DNA nano-structures repair
Repair molecules (green dye) can self-heal a DNA nanotube (blue dye); the red dye is the "seed" used to create the nanotube. Scale bar, 2 microns. Source:m Eurekalert

The researchers developed a computer model of the process that indicated DNA nanostructures could be maintained for months or longer using the self-healing method.

You can read the paper's full abstract on the ACS Publications website here. The paper was funded, in part, by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. 

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