DNA Nanotechnology - Fundamental Concepts - Subfields


DNA nanotechnology is sometimes divided into two overlapping subfields: structural DNA nanotechnology and dynamic DNA nanotechnology. Structural DNA nanotechnology, sometimes abbreviated as SDN, focuses on synthesizing and characterizing nucleic acid complexes and materials that assemble into a static, equilibrium end state. On the other hand, dynamic DNA nanotechnology focuses on complexes with useful non-equilibrium behavior such as the ability to reconfigure based on a chemical or physical stimulus. Some complexes, such as nucleic acid nanomechanical devices, combine features of both the structural and dynamic subfields.

The complexes constructed in structural DNA nanotechnology use topologically branched nucleic acid structures containing junctions. (In contrast, most biological DNA exists as an unbranched double helix.) One of the simplest branched structures is a four-arm junction that consists of four individual DNA strands, portions of which are complementary in a specific pattern. Unlike in natural Holliday junctions, each arm in the artificial immobile four-arm junction has a different base sequence, causing the junction point to be fixed at a certain position. Multiple junctions can be combined in the same complex, such as in the widely used double-crossover (DX) motif, which contains two parallel double helical domains with individual strands crossing between the domains at two crossover points. Each crossover point is itself topologically a four-arm junction, but is constrained to a single orientation, as opposed to the flexible single four-arm junction, providing a rigidity that makes the DX motif suitable as a structural building block for larger DNA complexes.

Dynamic DNA nanotechnology uses a mechanism called toehold-mediated strand displacement to allow the nucleic acid complexes to reconfigure in response to the addition of a new nucleic acid strand. In this reaction, the incoming strand binds to a single-stranded toehold region of a double-stranded complex, and then displaces one of the strands bound in the original complex through a branch migration process. The overall effect is that one of the strands in the complex is replaced with another one. In addition, reconfigurable structures and devices can be made using functional nucleic acids such as deoxyribozymes and ribozymes, which are capable of performing chemical reactions, and aptamers, which can bind to specific proteins or small molecules.

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