DNA nanotubes build a bridge between two molecular posts

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In a microscopic feat that resembled a high-wire circus act, Johns Hopkins researchers have coaxed DNA nanotubes to assemble themselves into bridge-like structures arched between two molecular landmarks on the surface of a lab dish.

This self-assembling bridge process, which may someday be used to connect electronic medical devices to living cells, was reported by the team recently in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Time-lapse movie showing the formation of a DNA nanotube bridge (green) between two molecular landmarks (red and blue) that are separated by 6 microns. The movie is 5,000 times sped up with respect to real time. Note: To replay the movie, please refresh the page. Video Images Courtesy of Nature Nanotechnology, 2016, Abdul M. Mohammed, et. al.

The paper’s lead author, Abdul Mohammed, said “If this process were to happen at the human scale,” Mohammed said, “it would be like one person casting a fishing line from one side of a football field and trying to hook a person standing on the other side.”

To describe this process, senior author Rebecca Schulman, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering in the university’s Whiting School of Engineering, referred to a death-defying stunt shown in the movie “Man on Wire.” The film depicted Philippe Petit’s 1974 high-wire walk between the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers.

Schulman pointed out that the real-life crossing could not have been accomplished without a critical piece of old-fashioned engineering: Petit’s hidden partner used a bow and arrow to launch the wire across the chasm between the towers, allowing it to be secured to each structure.

To accomplish this task, the researchers turned to DNA nanotubes. These microscopic building blocks, formed by short sequences of synthetic DNA, have become popular materials in the emerging nanotechnology construction field. The sequences are particularly useful because of their ability to assemble themselves into long, tube-like structures known as DNA nanotubes.

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