by Andre on 21 February 2006
One of the sessions this morning was called Structure by Design: Single Proteins to Nanostructure and for once, the nano reference was appropriate. The first talk described great work on designing nanoscale patterns and functional structures out of nucleic acids.
Nadrian Seeman from NYU has a long history of building with DNA and covered a lot of ground today. In its most basic form, his group’s research involves designing artificial DNA sequences that will self assemble in controlled ways. Their two most basic building units are stable asymmetric Holliday junctions and complementary overhanging sticky ends. Base pairing does the rest. They aren’t just making DNA scaffolds and passive nanopatterns though, they’re also making functional (albeit slow and fragile) nanomachines. A little over a year ago they reported a DNA nanomachine that can function as a kind of ribosome for making specific sequences of subunits (each of which is made of another helical DNA structure that they call a double cross over). Here’s a nanotech web article about there work where I got this picture of the device:
I’ve thought about trying to get into the DNA nanostructures game before and his talk was helping to motivate me until he mentioned that he “burned through” three grad students that unsuccessfully tried to make a 2D triangular pattern out of DNA until a fourth group member succeeded. That’s when I came to my senses! Future grad students beware: large groups that regularly produce high profile papers can afford to “burn through” a few students on the way. It’s not necessarily a bad situation to be in, but you should be careful. Don’t get burned.