Researchers used nanoparticles to make 3-D DNA nanotubes that may soon find their way into a new generation of ultra-tiny electronic and biomedical innovations.
Arizona State University researchers Hao Yan and Yan Liu from its Biodesign Institute revealed the 3-D character of DNA nanotubules, rings and spirals, each a few hundred thousandths the diameter of a human hair.
Yan and Liu are working in the rapidly proliferating field of structural DNA nanotechnology. By copying a page from nature's guidebook, they capitalise on the DNA molecule's remarkable properties of self-assembly.
When ribbon-like strands of the molecule are brought together, they fasten to one another like Velcro strips, according to simple rules governing the pairing of their four chemical bases, (labelled A, C, T and G).
From this meagre alphabet, nature has wrung a mind-bending multiplicity of forms. DNA accomplishes this through the cellular synthesis of structural proteins, coded for by specific sequences of the bases.
Such proteins are fundamental constituents of living matter, forming cell walls, vessels, tissues and organs. But DNA itself can also form stable architectural structures, and may be artificially cajoled into doing so.
Yan has been inspired by nanoscale ingenuity in the natural world. "Unicellular creatures like oceanic diatoms," he points out, "contain self-assembled protein architectures." These diverse forms of enormous delicacy and organismic practicality are frequently the result of the orchestrated self-assembly of both organic and inorganic material.
Scientists in the field of structural DNA nanotechnology, including Yan's team, have previously demonstrated that pre-fab DNA elements could be induced to self-assemble, forming useful nanostructural platforms or "tiles".
Such tiles are able to snap together - with jigsaw puzzle-piece specificity - through base pairing, forming larger arrays, said a Arizona release.
Yan and Liu believe that controlled tubular nanostructures bearing nanoparticles may be applied to the design of electrical channels for cell-cell communication or used in the construction of various nanoelectrical devices.
These findings were published in Friday's edition of Science.