Research

DNA Nanotechnology is a new and emerging interdisciplinary area with the potential to become a leading technological foundation for the development of future medicines, diagnostic tools, materials, optics and electronics. The field has evolved primarily in the USA, where it currently has its stronghold. However, in recent years a number of European research groups, which are part of the proposed ITN network, have contributed significantly to this new research field. The purpose of establishing a Marie Curie ITN is to establish a coherent and focused program between leading scientists in the EU to train young scientists and future leaders in this strategic interdisciplinary research area.

Hands-on research training forms an important part of EScoDNA ITN. It will be conducted through the pursuit of three main objectives of the network

A)   Design of functional and dynamic DNA nanostructures

B)   Integrating other materials in DNA nanostructures

C)   DNA nanotechnology in life science and medicine

All three objectives constitute innovative directions of the young but rapidly growing field of DNA Nanotechnology. The integration of functions, dynamics (A) and new materials (B) forms the basis for the application of DNA nanostructures as novel tools and containers in life sciences and medicine (C). All of the highly interconnected research projects ultimately aim at the common goal of this training network: to exploit DNA for the development of new functional tools for key applications sectors: life sciences and medicine. This effort marks a novel path that is of such strategic importance to science, industry and society that it must be thoroughly explored. It is, for example, of enormous interest to researchers in biology and medicine alike to achieve controlled passage through cellular membranes, allowing reliable and cell-specific drug or gene delivery. In principle, DNA structures provide all the essential properties required for this task and can be employed as information-processing and active agents in biological surroundings.

DNA Nanotechnology

DNA nanotechnology is based on the unique self-assembly properties of DNA and other nucleotide derivatives which allow the rational design and formation of nanoscale structures with predictable geometry and function. It includes studies of the basic self-assembly properties of nucleobases and the cooperative assembly of large assemblies of hundreds of DNA strands. DNA self-assembly is controlled by the hybridization of DNA strands with complementary base sequences to create the Watson-Crick double helix. DNA sequences of more than 150 nucleotides can be synthesized chemically by automated synthesis, making it possible for scientists to program their interactions with other synthetic or natural DNA strands and thus to design assembly pathways. By computer aided design, highly complex 2D and 3D DNA structures can be rapidly designed and manufactured in a parallel self-assembly process using large pools of DNA strands. The dynamic properties of DNA also allow the formation of mechanically functional and programmable DNA devices such as DNA walkers, DNA actuators and a variety of DNA sensors. The chemical synthesis of DNA makes it possible to insert modified bases and non-natural chemical modifications at specific positions of the synthetic DNA strands. Such modifications include fluorophores, biotin and, in particular, reactive chemical linkers that in turn make it possible to covalently attach other molecules to DNA. In this way, molecular electronic components, bioactive compounds, polymers, dendrimers and mechanically functional molecules can be incorporated into DNA nanostructures. Chemical linkers that enable conjugation to other materials, in particular proteins, make it possible to integrate nature’s complex machinery into DNA nanostructures.