By Clarissa Towle
Scientists are developing many uses for DNA beyond what we all know it for — encoding our genetic information. DNA can be used as a building block to create custom nano-structures for drug delivery, biosensing, or bioimaging. To build these structures, scientists often take advantage of the specific base-pairings that make up the ladder of DNA’s famous double helix.
Folded DNA “origami” structures can act as nano-capsules for transporting molecules like proteins or drugs to a target site. To be used in the body, however, these new DNA structures have to survive a complex biological environment. Your own DNA is both sheltered in the nuclei of your cells and recognized by your body as one of the good guys. But when foreign DNA is introduced, it doesn’t last very long without protection.
In a collaboration led by the Center for Functional Nanomaterials’ Soft and Bio Nanomaterials Group and the Molecular Foundry’s Biological Nanostructures facility, scientists have figured out how to keep these DNA structures safe. The study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), demonstrates a way to protect DNA origami structures using a peptoid molecular coating so that they can survive longer in the body. With this protection, the DNA origami can complete its mission, such as delivering an anti-cancer drug directly to a tumor site and releasing it slowly over time.
The Molecular Foundry, the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), and the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) are Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facilities. The CFN and the Foundry are both DOE Nanoscale Science Research Centers (NSRCs).