Friday, 24 January 2014

Building nanoplanets in Nature Nanotechnology

The guys over at Nature have either got themselves some really big nanoparticles, or a really tiny desk… On this desk lies a tube of DNA: The All Purpose Adhesive, apparently. Surely DNA’s main purpose is to encode life and all the wonders that brings with it. But the latest cover from Nature Nanotechnology would have you believe otherwise.
DNA Mechano kit

Is this a glimpse into the future of nanotechnology or mere science fiction? Nanoparticles that we can construct just as easily as any Ikea flat pack or DIY project? DNA in a tube? The illustration shows us a box full of potential building blocks, much like an old Mechano kit, ready to be ransacked by curious children. Rods of different lengths, shiny silver balls and odd little stripy green and blue particles overflow the tool box and invite a creative mind to get building. A few new creations have been left out on the table for us to inspect or possibly the authors have not yet cleared away their Christmas decorations. 

The blueprints on this front cover are really nice touch. Designs for the structure of a nucleotide sequence as well as a DNA origami scheme are shown, reminding us all of the importance of good planning. More chemists should keep notes on blueprints, much more fun than an old lab book.
But what about that tube of DNA. That vital component. That all purpose adhesive. The tube says that the glue is both permanent and adjustable, surely making it the wonder material of the future. Maybe one day DNA assembly will indeed be as simple as squeezing some out of a bottle and adding the components you want. At the current rate of progress in this field, I wouldn’t bet against it.

Nano nano nano

The actual article demonstrates another step forward in DNA technology. The team from Munich have combined the well-known self-assembly of DNA with quantum dots, metal nanoparticles and organic dyes to form a range of nanoclusters. They demonstrated a new level of control over the size and positioning of the structures, using DNA strands to precisely arrange components over a 200 nm scale. The new assemblies were deemed to have a “planet-satellite-type structure”, which made me wonder why they didn’t go for some outer space themed cover art. However, the use of nanoplanets made with nanoglue may have resulted in these heavenly bodies exploding from buzzword overload.