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May 6th, 2009
Danish researchers have made a nano-sized box out of DNA that can be locked or opened in response to 'keys' made from short strands of DNA. By changing the nature or number of these keys, it should be possible to use the boxes as sensors, drug delivery systems or even molecular computers.
Jørgen Kjems, Kurt Gothelf and colleagues from Aarhus University, Denmark, have taken an existing technique known as 'DNA origami' into a whole new dimension. The technique traditionally uses a few hundred short DNA strands to staple longer DNA strands together to create two-dimensional nanostructures, usually building from a solid surface that supports the structures.
'But in this case you have things standing up,' says Kjems. 'And this makes the structures more fragile and much harder to image, so just to prove that you actually have your structure can be quite difficult,' he adds.
To make the box shape, the team took a long, circular single strand of DNA from a virus that infects bacteria called bacteriophage M13. This M13 sequence is a cheap source of single-stranded DNA and is convenient size for building with. To turn this ring of DNA into a box, the team used a computer to work out exactly the right combination of short strands of complementary DNA which could 'staple' the appropriate areas of the ring together to get the desired box shape. When they mixed the M13 strand with the 220 short 'staple strands' and heated them up for an hour, the boxes neatly self-assembled.
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