Researchers have designed a smart material made of DNA nanotubes

Scientists at UC Santa Barbara have created a dynamic gel made of DNA that responds mechanically to stimuli in a similar way to how cells do. The results of their research were published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Its DNA gel, just 10 microns thick, is about the size of a eukaryotic cell, the type of cell that humans are made of. The tiny gel contains rigid DNA nanotubes bound together by longer, more flexible strands of DNA that serve as a substrate for molecular motors.

Using DNA design, researchers can control the stiffness of the nanotubes and the shape and extent of their crosslinking, which will determine the response of the gel to stimuli.

Using a bacterial motor protein called FtsK50C, scientists can make the gel react in the same way that cytoskeletons react to the motor protein myosin, that is, by contracting and hardening. The protein binds to predetermined surfaces on the long binding filaments and twists them, shortening them and bringing the stiffer nanotubes closer to each other.

The project has potential applications in various fields, including smart materials, artificial musculature, understanding the mechanics of the cytoskeleton, and research into the physics of non-equilibrium, in addition to DNA nanotechnology.


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