Today’s Solutions: January 19, 2022

Scientists, from the Université de Montréal, have constructed the world’s tiniest antenna in an incredible experiment. This nanoantenna is made entirely from human DNA and its purpose is to monitor structural changes of protein molecules in never before achieved detail.

What is the device made out of?

During the past 40 years “chemists have realized that DNA can also be employed to build a variety of nanostructures and nanomachines,” stated senior author of the study, Alexis Vallée-Bélisle. The tiny genetic units that act like bricks of the antenna are actually 20,000 times smaller than a human hair!

How does it work?

The device is able to transfer signals due to its fluorescent properties. Vallée-Bélisle continued: “Like a two-way radio that can both receive and transmit radio waves, the fluorescent nanoantenna receives light in one color, or wavelength, and depending on the protein movement it senses, then transmits light back in another color, which we can detect.”

What makes this invention different from previous efforts is its innovation in its receiver part. This attachment allows the surface of protein molecules and their molecular interactions with other proteins to be discerned. The details were published in Nature Methods in January 2022.

What are its uses?

Hopefully, the invention will open many new exciting avenues in biochemistry such as looking more specifically at molecules and their interactions. This is valuable for drug discovery and also investigating diseases. “We were able to detect, in real time and for the first time, the function of the enzyme alkaline phosphatase with a variety of biological molecules and drugs,” said Scott Harroun, the study’s first author. “This enzyme has been implicated in many diseases, including various cancers and intestinal inflammation.”

The team hopes to commercialize their invention so researchers and pharmaceutical companies alike can make use of the nanoantenna to forward science. Its flexibility, ease, and customizable genetic building blocks makes it very appealing for both fields.

Source study: Nature MethodsMonitoring protein conformational changes using fluorescent nanoantennas

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