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Sunday, August 26, 2007

A new research centre will focus on using human DNA to construct nanomolecules that can be used in battling disease

The University of Aarhus celebrated the opening of its new Centre for DNA Nanotechnology on Friday as a giant leap into the future of fighting disease using the building blocks of the human body.
Founded through a grant from the Danish National Research Foundation, the CDNA will develop new methods within nanotechnology for better treatment and diagnosis of diseases linked to DNA.
Researchers now work with materials so small that they can be difficult to work with using even the most powerful microscopes and equipment. CDNA researchers will focus specifically on using and developing nanotechnology with the most intricate, high-tech equipment available to manipulate the minute materials and create self-regulating units out of them.
‘We will then be able to produce medicines that only work in the precise areas of a person’s disease,’ Kurt Vesterager Gothelf, chemistry professor at CDNA, told Nyhedsavisen newspaper. ‘For example, we can make an anti-cancer drug that only attacks the cancer cells. It will result in far fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy.’
These self-regulating molecules will be so specialised and so advanced that they will replace many of the bulky existing regulating devices, such as pacemakers.
In addition, nanotechnology can pave the way for substances which can locate bacteria in food or uncover dangerous substances during airport security checks.
The CDNA research team consists of three scientists from the University of Aarhus and two from the United States. The quality of the team is second to none, according to the university’s assistant dean, Mette Bock.
‘The new research centre and its team put us up in the international elite and give us many exciting development perspectives.’

More News.

DNA acts like a “piston”

Biophysicists have built a DNA nanomolecular device that expands and contracts with the addition of “fuel” DNA. Patrizia Alberti and Jean-Louis Mergny at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris constructed the piston-like device using a single strand of nucleotides. They believe that it could be used as a structural component in nanomolecular machines (P Alberti and J-L Mergny 2003 Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. to be published).
DNA is often called the “building block of life”. It consists of two linear strands wound into a double helix with one of four different “bases” attached to every sugar group along the strands. DNA is an attractive component for use in molecular machines because it can recognize specific base sequences. It self-assembles easily and complex molecular structures can be made from simple double helices. In addition, DNA can change its shape, which further expands the number of nanostructures possible.
Alberti and Mergny used an unusual “quadruplex” DNA structure, which contains four strands with twenty-one bases, folded in a special way. The structure is made to unfold by adding a fuel DNA strand, creating a “duplex” structure that resembles the more conventional double helix. To re-fold the duplex, the researchers add an “anti-fuel”, which combines with the fuel to form a waste product. The folding-unfolding cycle takes only a few seconds and fluorescence resonance energy-transfer spectroscopy shows that the expansion and contraction occurs over a distance of 5 to 6 nanometres.
The device oscillates between two well-defined states and can be compared to the movement of a piston in a cylinder, the researchers say. “This new type of extension-contraction movement ties in well with work by other groups who observe rotation and scissor-like opening and closing,” Mergny told PhysicsWeb. “From a nanotechnology point of view, it is possible to finely control the structure by the addition of strands with specific sequences.”
The sequence of bases along the chain chosen by the researchers is important biologically and the team now hopes to look at other sequences that exhibit the same type of movement. “We would also like to know if quadruplexes are able to form inside a human cell,” Mergny added.

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