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Autonomous nanomachines perform biologic functions in live cells.

Nanomachines made from synthetic DNA motors have the potential to mimic natural protein motors in cells, however, the operation of synthetic DNA motors in living corpuscles has not yet been demonstrated. The remarkable specificity and predictability of Watson–Crick base pairing make DNA an appealing construction material to build the synthetic motor systems.  However, although various synthetic DNA motors have been tested in vitro, the ultimate goal of introducing them into cells to perform biological functions has not yet been achieved.  Now, a study from researchers at the University of Alberta develops working synthetic DNA motors in living cells. The team states their study demonstrates how DNA motors can be used to accomplish specific biological functions in live cells.  The opensource study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Previous studies show to operate in living cells synthetic DNA motors must encompass components readily taken up by living cells, with the operation of the motor and its parts initiated by specific molecules within the cellular material. It is also advantageous for the motor to be self-powered to enable autonomous intracellular walking, with the external addition of fuel DNA strands or protein enzymes highly undesirable. Finally, the operation of the motor in living cells should be monitored in real-time to pick up any reactions or resulting diagnostics.  The current study develops a DNAzyme motor capable of operating in living cells in response to a specific intracellular target.

The current study develops a nanomachine from compartments made up of DNA enzyme molecules and substrates, providing the required fuels, DNA tracks, and a molecular switch. The aforementioned produced a nanomachine capable of detecting a specific microRNA sequence found in breast cancer cells. Results show when the DNA motor came into contact with the targeted molecules, it produced fluorescence as part of a reaction. The group was able to monitor the fluorescence, detecting which cells were cancerous and believe the findings show great promise for the early diagnosis of disease.

The lab states trace amounts of the target molecules that may be missed by other techniques can now be detected by their nanomachine.  They go on to add in addition to the potential for improved disease diagnosis, DNA motors could also be used for precision drug delivery in patients without adversly affecting molecules that are not diseased.

The team surmises their study demonstrates, for the first time, the operation of a synthetic DNA motor in living cells.  For the future, the researchers state their aim is to expand their work to examine a wider range of disease markers.

Source: University of Alberta

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