DNA Nanotechnology - Applications


DNA nanotechnology provides one of the few ways to form designed, complex structures with precise control over nanoscale features. The field is beginning to see application to solve basic science problems in structural biology and biophysics. The earliest such application envisaged for the field, and one still in development, is in crystallography, where molecules that are difficult to crystallize in isolation could be arranged within a three-dimensional nucleic acid lattice, allowing determination of their structure. Another application is the use of DNA origami rods to replace liquid crystals in residual dipolar coupling experiments in protein NMR spectroscopy; using DNA origami is advantageous because, unlike liquid crystals, they are tolerant of the detergents needed to suspend membrane proteins in solution. DNA walkers have been used as nanoscale assembly lines to move nanoparticles and direct chemical synthesis. Furthermore, DNA origami structures have aided in the biophysical studies of enzyme function and protein folding.

DNA nanotechnology is moving towards potential real-world applications. The ability of nucleic acid arrays to arrange other molecules indicates its potential applications in molecular scale electronics. The assembly of a nucleic acid structure could be used to template the assembly of a molecular electronic elements such as molecular wires, providing a method for nanometer-scale control of the placement and overall architecture of the device analogous to a molecular breadboard. DNA nanotechnology has been compared to the concept of programmable matter because of the coupling of computation to its material properties.

There are potential applications for DNA nanotechnology in nanomedicine, making use of its ability to perform computation in a biocompatible format to make "smart drugs" for targeted drug delivery. One such system being investigated uses a hollow DNA box containing proteins that induce apoptosis, or cell death, that will only open when in proximity to a cancer cell. There has additionally been interest in expressing these artificial structures in engineered living bacterial cells, most likely using the transcribed RNA for the assembly, although it is unknown whether these complex structures are able to efficiently fold or assemble in the cell's cytoplasm. If successful, this could enable directed evolution of nucleic acid nanostructures.

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