A Team of Chemists Have Built the World's Tiniest Antenna Using DNA

A new leap in nanotechnology.
Ameya Paleja
Molecular rendering of the antenna at workUniversity of Montreal

Researchers at the University of Montreal in Canada used deoxyribose nucleic acid — or DNA, the building blocks of our genetic material — to make the world's tiniest antenna. It is designed to track the motion of proteins inside the cell, a university press release said.

The human body is an amazing machine in itself. Made up of trillions of cells that perform specific functions, these tiny machine components are packed with instructions to replicate, mature, and even die. All this information is packed into the DNA and unveils itself at pre-programmed times to get the job done. Ever since its discovery in 1953, the field of DNA chemistry had opened many doors ranging from DNA computing to editing the information using contained therein using CRISPR to assign the cell new tasks altogether. 

Scott Harroun, one of the researchers who built the tiny antenna said in the press release that DNA chemistry is actually simple and easy to program. DNA functions pretty much like LEGO blocks and can be put together in different lengths to optimize a new function. The research team added a fluorescent molecule at one end to make an antenna that was five nanometers long (20,000 times thinner than human hair). 

Like radio antennae that can communicate in both directions, this antenna can perform two-way communications, except that it uses light for this purpose. The researchers deployed the nanoantenna to sense the movement of a protein by sending it a light signal. Depending on the way the protein molecule moved, the antenna responded back with a light signal of a different color. Interestingly, the response signal can be captured with a spectrofluorometer, a device commonly found in laboratories around the world. 

Harroun added that the team used the antenna to study the enzyme alkaline phosphatase, a protein implicated in many diseases including cancers in real-time. The team could apply their technology to study its interaction with other biological molecules as well as drugs. According to Dominic Lauzon, a senior member of the team, these nanoantennas could help in the discovery of new drugs as well as allow nano engineers to build improved nanomachines.

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