Researchers have developed the world’s tiniest antenna made out of DNA to monitor protein movements and learn more about nanotechnology.
Developed at the University of Montreal (UdeM) in Canada, the antenna is only five nano-metres long, made from DNA molecules that are roughly 20,000 times smaller than a human hair.
The nanoantenna is fluorescent and receives light in the form of colour and wavelength. Depending on the movement of the protein it is monitoring, it reflects light back in another colour which the researchers can use to monitor protein movements in real time. In this way it functions as a two-way radio for the researchers.
“One of the main advantages of using DNA to design these nano-antennas is that the chemistry of DNA is relatively simple and programmable.” First author of the study Scott Harroun said.
This DNA synthesizing technology was first developed more than 40 years ago and is now able to produce nanostructures of different lengths and flexibilities. The scientists believe these fluorescent antennas open new avenues in biochemistry and nanotechnology.
“In addition to helping us understand how natural nanomachines work or why they malfunction, leading to disease, this new method could promote the discovery of promising new drugs and guide nano-engineers in the development of improved nanomachines.” Co-author Dominic Lauzon said.
The study has shown promising results as the DNA antenna was tested with three different proteins, demonstrating a versatility to its design. The researchers also detected the function of the enzyme alkaline phosphatase for the first time “with a variety of biological molecules and drugs”, according to Harroun.
“This enzyme has been implicated in many diseases, including various cancers and intestinal inflammation.” Harroun added.
The study’s senior author Prof Alexis Vallée-Bélisle said they are working on setting up a start-up company to commecialise the nanoantenna and make it available for other researchers.
“Perhaps what we are most excited by is the realization that many labs around the world, equipped with a conventional spectrofluorometer, could readily employ these nanoantennas to study their favourite protein, such as to identify new drugs or to develop new nanotechnologies.” Vallée-Bélisle added.
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