DNA Nanovases

Nanotechnologists from Arizona State University, USA have made "bowls", "flasks" and "vases" of nano-dimensions with nothing but DNA. This they have achieved using DNA Origami, a self-assembly technique where strands of DNA are folded and "stapled" together to make intricate structures just as paper is used in the conventional origami.

DNA is well-known for many decades as the molecule of life that holds all the essential information required for the formation and existence of an organism. However, its potential in nanotechnology has only recently been envisaged and is being realized now.

The amazing ability of one molecular strand of DNA to produce a regular double helix with another forms the essence of its structure and consequently its function. The same is used by chemists and biophysicts to make nanostructures with DNA. These structures may contain either a few strands of DNA connected to each other at various points to form various shapes and figures or, it may be a combination of a very long DNA molecule stapled together to produce a sheet, which is then folded (like in origami) to make structures. Sometimes, DNA molecules are also used as "smart glue" to create nanostructures with inorganic nanoparticles.

Several reports of DNA nanostructures have come out in the past few years. The most recent one is from one of the leaders from the field, Hao Yan at Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University. The group made circular rings of concentric DNA molecules of different sizes and placed them vertically one on top of each other and stapled them all together with tiny DNA molecules. The result of this simple-sounding tedious task was nanoflasks and nano-vases. The paper published in Science has the elegant structures captured by transmission electron microscopy and atomic force microscopy. It also has details of the experiment in the supporting information available on the internet probably for free.

What's special about this work is that a simple approach was demonstrated as effective in making three dimensional objects with smooth curvatures using DNA origami technique. It takes the field of DNA nanotechnology a great deal further towards the realization of fully functional devices.

Many believe that these nanoflasks can be made to carry medicine to the diseased cells, but that may take a while as the issues relating to the stability of these structures and the feasibility of their fabrication are yet to be addressed satisfactorily. Until then we should perhaps, wait for people to make DNA (or RNA) nanoflowers for these vases!

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