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Building with DNA: From understanding to redesign of molecular machines

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DNA – the molecule of life – is an ideal tool for building objects on nanometre length scale. Understanding the forces of interactions that form the double helix allows for exploiting DNA as a molecular scaffold that assembles into any programmed three dimensional object. DNA is a transformative building material for experiments that require molecular control over the shape of nanometre-sized objects. I will discuss examples of DNA based self-assembly for novel applications as well as the understanding of biological systems.

I will start by introducing DNA as a building material and show how one could realise a DNA -based computer exploiting self-assembly. We developed a system that allows data to be stored in the 3D structure of DNA , read out and even changed –paving the way towards data processing with molecules running only on entropy. Based on the same ideas I will show how one can translate three-dimensional structures of molecules into electrical signals. Translation of structure into electrical signals also enables multiplexed protein sensing surpassing current technologies.

In the second part of the talk I will use DNA to build functional ion channels and enzyme mimics that can be interfaced with biological membranes. DNA structures can be transformed into ion channels via hydrophobic modifications. These man-made systems span orders of magnitude in molecular weight from single helices to large porins. Our DNA -based mimics exhibit voltage-activated characteristics as found in natural ion channels. A combination of experiments and molecular simulations show that DNA ion channels act as enzymes that allow mixing of lipids between different leaflets of bilayers. In an outlook, I will discuss how we can enable DNA based machines activated by temperature and may integrate this systems into building artificial cells.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Physics Society series.

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