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article imageA Tiny Box With A Lid, Made Of DNA

By Alakananda Mookerjee     May 10, 2009 in Science
A team of Danish scientists have built a miniscule box, complete with solid six faces and a hinged lid, using DNA—the genetic material that is present in every cellular nucleus.
The technique, known as “DNA origami,” is the cutting-edge of nanotechnology research that 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 the nanosacle have been successful, this is the very first time that one with a movable component has been designed. And 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, it is tiny receptacles such as these that may be employed by medicine for easy delivery of drugs to areas of the human body—renal capillaries, coronary arteries, cranial nerves etc.
In theory, these lockboxes are capable of being hermetically sealed, are adequately spacious to hold objects still smaller than themselves and strong enough to transport them. DNA is also ideally suited as a building material for nano-structures. But so far, they have only functioned in a test-tube environment. How they will behave when planted inside a living being and what effect they may have on them has not yet been tested.
And until such time they are 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 taken harvested from a virus. A computer software, developed by the researchers, issues 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 smaller strands that provide architectural support—known as “staples”—this thread then self-assembles into the desired form.
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