A Tiny Box Made Of DNA

A team of Danish scientists has built a minuscule box, complete with six solid faces and a hinged lid, using DNA—the genetic material that’s present in every cellular nucleus.

The technique, known as “DNA origami,” is the cutting-edge of nanotechnology research and involves bending a single strand of DNA sequence into three-dimensional molecular structures.

It takes its name after “origami,”the traditional Japanese art of folding a single sheet of paper to create 3D representations of objects, without the help of either glue or a pair of scissors.

Though previous efforts to create articles on such a minute scale have been successful, this is the very first time that one with a movable component has been designed. It’s hence, being hailed as a feat of molecular biology.

Jørgen Kjems, a scientist at the Aarhus University Center for DNA Nanotechnology, who led the research told Technology Review that while the creation of the lockbox, is, in itself, a remarkable accomplishment, it still has more potential as a “nano-delivery vehicle.”

Someday, in the future, tiny receptacles such as these may be employed by medicine for easy delivery of drugs to areas of the human body like the renal capillaries, coronary arteries, and cranial nerves.

In theory, these lockboxes are capable of being hermetically sealed, are adequately spacious to hold objects still smaller than themselves, and are strong enough to transport them.

DNA is ideally suited as a building material for wee structures. But so far, they’ve only functioned in a test-tube environment. How they’ll behave when planted inside a living being and the effect they’ll have on them hasn’t yet been tested.

Until such time that they’re proved to be reliable carriers of cargo—therapeutic or otherwise—they can serve as “logic gates in a DNA-based computer,” Kjems said.

The DNA used in the procedure is harvested from a virus. A piece of software issues a set of commands to the viral DNA to generate a continuous single strand of DNA, something akin to a strip of a very narrow, miniature, coiled ribbon.

With the aid of architectural support provided by smaller strands called “staples,” this thread then self-assembles into the desired form.

Digital Journal, May 10, 2009.

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