Scientists JW1 from Arizona State and Harvard invented a new strategy in DNA nanotechnology, dubbed “the single stranded origami.” Inspired by pop-up books and origami, DNA origami technology is gaining popularity as being a revolutionary method in computing, electronics, and medicine. This new strategy is a huge advance in this area, and holds great potential for the DNA origami scientists. It uses single strands of DNA or RNA, and allows it to self-fold into complex structures. They can be formed inside living cells, which allow those structures to be replicated biologically, which allows possibility for complex, efficient, cost-friendly DNA structures, which were not possible before. So far, scientists were able to make 18 different shapes, including emoji-like smiley faces, hearts, and triangles.
Scientists have been focusing on DNA Origami for decades, and were attempting to put together small scraps of DNA (150-base-pairs or less) since the 1980s. Yet, their methods of creating DNA structures of specific size and shape were very limited, as there were essentially only two basic methods, which both had shortcomings. The first method was to use short pieces of DNA, and fold them together into a single structure. The second was to use a single strand DNA staple it into shape with helper strands of DNA. These methods were not reliable in creating the correct size, and were not able to replicate biologically, since they were using short strands of DNA. Not being able to replicate means that their creation in a lab is very costly, since scientists must make them from scratch one at a time. They had also had limited design and structure options because as the size of the structure increases, the accuracy of the fold gets more challenging. This new invention, adding a third method onto to those pre-existing, revolutionizes the past approaches to creating DNA structures.
Scientists focused on the single stranded RNA’s ability to self-fold into complex structures. They found a code that programs the RNA to fold itself into structures, which gave them the ability to “construct a structurally complex yet knot-free structure that can be folded smoothly from single strand”. The method works on both DNA and RNA, allowing scientists to use the algorithm and software to design one long single strands of DNA or RNA into any designated structures. The method also holds potential to turn the code into a mathematical algorithm, which can automate the designing process for easy use. The structures can be replicated and amplified with the biological cloning process inside the cell, which was not possible with the past methods.
Origami nanotechnology has been gaining popularity for its potential use in the medicine and biology field. Many exciting potential uses are expected from the DNA origami structures. One example of an application for this technology is in cancer therapy. Scientists hope to use DNA structures as delivery vehicles, providing “targeted drug delivery” to specific cancer cells. Once in use, nanostructures can not only deliver the drug to each specific cell, but is also more efficient and safe compared to traditional cancer therapy. Since the structures are precise enough to deliver to each cell, they can reduce side-effects, and be more efficient, and avoid drug resistance. These potential applications of DNA origami structures get more realistic as inventions, such as this recent one, continue to grow.
There are many more possible applications to this nanotechnology. The precision available with this new DNA structure allows for some very interesting ideas for applications of this technology. Some scientists hope to create nano versions of rulers to measure and observe proteins better. With the precision available with this new technology, fluorescent dyes can be used to mark and label marks accurately, which will be useful in calibrating microscopes that can resolve 200nm, smaller than a diffraction limit of light. (Source 3) Others find possibility in creating an artificial leaf that makes hydrogen from water, a process that will help scientists recreate photosystem II, a process that plants go through during photosynthesis that split water into hydrogen ions and oxygen. Other ideas include building artificial enzymes, organs, and neuronal networks.
The new jump in DNA origami broadens and increases the possibility to many dreams that scientists have been hoping to accomplish with DNA nanotechnology. With many possible applications and its appealing characteristic (low-cost, efficient, mass replicable) that allows easy production, this new invention will allow scientists to design many new shapes and complex structures that will revolutionize fields in medicine, computing, and more.