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October 09, 2008

Producing Trillions of Copies of artificial DNA Nanotechnology Structures using Living Cell Factories



Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University researcher Hao Yan is making DNA based nanostructures inside a living cell.

“Cells are really good at making copies of double stranded DNA and we have used the cell like a copier machine to produce many, many copies of complex DNA nanostructures.”

DNA nanotechnologists have made some very exciting achievements during the past five to 10 years. But DNA nanotechnology has been limited by the need to chemically synthesize all of the material from scratch. To date, it has strictly been a test tube science, where researchers have developed many toolboxes for making different DNA nanostructures to attach and organize other molecules including nanoparticles and other biomolecules.

Yan acknowledges that this is just the first step, but foresees there are many interesting DNA variations to consider next. “The fact that the natural cellular machinery can tolerate artificial DNA objects is quite intriguing, and we don’t know what the limit is yet.”

Yan’s group may be able to change and evolve DNA nanostructures and devices using the cellular system and the technology may also open up some possibilities for synthetic biology applications.





Yan and his fellow researchers, Chenxiang Lin, Sherri Rinker and Yan Liu at ASU and their collaborators Ned Seeman and Xing Wang at New York University went back to reproducing the very first branched nanostructure made up of DNA- a cross-shaped, four-arm DNA junction and another DNA junction structure containing a different crossover topology.

To copy these branched DNA nanostructures inside a living cell, the ASU and NYU research team first shipped the cargo inside a bacteria cell. They cut and pasted the DNA necessary to make these structures into a phagemid, a virus-like particle that infects a bacteria cell. Once inside the cell, the phagemid used the cell just like a photocopier machine to reproduce millions of copies of the DNA. By theoretically starting with just a single phagemid infection, and a single milliliter of cultured cells, Yan found that the cells could churn out trillions of the DNA junction nanostructures.

The DNA nanostructures produced in the cells were also found to fold correctly, just like the previously built test tube structures. According to Yan, the results also proved the key existence of the DNA nanostructures during the cell’s routine DNA replication and division cycles. “When a DNA nanostructure gets replicated, it does exist and can survive the complicated cellular machinery. And it looks like the cell can tolerate this kind of structure and still do its job. It’s amazing,” said Yan.


FURTHER READING
DNA nanotechnology at wikipedia

DNA can be folded to create shapes and patterns.


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