Scientists have built the smallest antenna in the world, and it’s made of DNA

Scientists have built the smallest antenna ever – just five nanometers long. Unlike its much larger counterparts that we all know, this tiny thing is not made to carry radio waves, but rather to solve the mysteries of ever-changing proteins.

The nano-antenna is made up of DNA, molecules that carry genetic instructions that are about 20,000 times smaller than a human hair. It’s also fluorescent, which means it uses light signals to record and report information.

And with these light signals you can study the movement and change of proteins in real time.

Part of the innovation of this particular antenna is that its receptor part is also used to detect the molecular surface of the protein under study. This leads to a clear signal when the protein is fulfilling its biological function.

“Like a radio device that can both receive and transmit radio waves, the fluorescent nano-antenna receives light in one color or wavelength and, depending on the movement of the proteins it recognizes, transmits the light in another color that we can recognize”, says the chemist Alexis Vallée-Bélisle, from the Université de Montréal (UdeM) in Canada.

Specifically, the task of the antenna is to measure structural changes in proteins over time. Proteins are large, complex molecules that perform all important tasks in the body, from supporting the immune system to regulating organ function.

However, because proteins do their job in a hurry, they are subject to constant structural changes and move in a very complex process that scientists call. state to state protein dynamics. And we don’t really have the right tools to follow the dynamics of these proteins in action.

“Experimental study of protein transition states remains a major challenge because high structural resolution techniques, including nuclear magnetic resonance and X-ray crystallography, often cannot be directly applied to the study of short-lived protein states,” the team said. explained in his article.

The latest DNA synthesis technology – around 40 years of development – is able to produce tailor-made nanostructures of different lengths and flexibility, which are optimized to fulfill their required functions.

One of the advantages of this very small DNA antenna over other analytical techniques is that it can detect protein states of very short duration. According to the researchers, this results in many possible applications, both in biochemistry and in nanotechnology in general.

“For example, we were able to demonstrate the function of the enzyme alkaline phosphatase with a large number of biological molecules and drugs in real time for the first time,” says chemist Scott Harroun from UdeM. “This enzyme is involved in many diseases, including various types of cancer and intestinal inflammation.”

While the team explored the “universality” of its design, the team successfully tested their antenna on three different model proteins – streptavidin, alkaline phosphatase, and protein G – but there could be much more to come, and one of the few advantages of the new antenna is its versatility.

“Nano-antennas can be used to monitor various biomolecular mechanisms in real time, including small and large conformational changes – basically any event that can affect the fluorescence emission of the dye,” the team said. written in his diary.

DNA is growing in popularity as a building block that we can synthesize and manipulate to create nanostructures like the antenna in this study. DNA chemistry is relatively simple to program and easy to use once programmed.

Researchers now want to create a commercial startup so that nano-antenna technology can be conveniently packaged and used by others, be they pharmaceutical organizations or other research teams.

“Perhaps what excites us most is the realization that many laboratories around the world that are equipped with a traditional spectrofluorometer could easily use these nano-antennas to study their favorite proteins, for example to identify new drugs or to develop new ones . says Vallée-Bélisle.

The study was published in Natural methods.

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