Making Art With DNA

Since the 1980’s, scientists have been making shapes out of DNA. In recent years, technological advances have increased to the point where we can now make beautiful designs from the molecule that encodes our existence. It’s called DNA Origami.

The idea is relatively simple. A single strand of a DNA molecule is used as a scaffold. The scaffold is then molded to design the shape desired with “staple molecules” or short complementary sequences of DNA that will fold the scaffold strand.

2_1
An example of Scaffold and Staple DNA construction. Source

With the right computer programs, you can make a wide variety of shapes, including smiley faces, teddy bears, or even a box equipped with a lid and a lock.

Of course, it’s always fun when scientists get to play around, but there are some pretty impressive applications to this technique as well.

Scientists have been adapting DNA origami to form various objects (a sphere, or a box) able to carry drugs to a target site within the body. For example, chemotherapy and immunotherapy drugs for cancer patients wreak havoc on the body. However, if they are able to be transferred to the tumor itself, not only would you have reduced toxicity, you would also potentially increase your chance of destroying the tumor.

2016_SL_Origami_twosmileys
An example of various shapes that can be made with DNA origami. Source

Others have also worked to create “nanobots” (extremely small functional robots) from DNA. These nanobots reportedly have the capability of being pre-programmed to travel to certain areas and perform basic functions. While the technology is very new and has not been tested in humans yet, it appears to be a promising avenue of research.

While DNA origami technology has come a long way, scientists have been limited on one aspect; size.

Currently, the largest a DNA origami shape could be is about 100 nanometers. If larger than that, the shapes loose their stability.

Yesterday however, four papers published in Nature describes methods of evading this problem.

origamiexamples
DNA Origami box. Source

By creating small DNA origami V-shaped structures and allowing them to link together, scientists have overcome the size restrains. These structures can then be used to make large, stable structures like the sphere below.

nature origami 1
A representation of the DNA V building blocks. Source

These larger spheres then possess the capability of carrying a wide variety of items, including drugs for various diseases.

 

Researchers also developed a new design software that can generate pictures and make DNA origami representations of pictures, like the Mona Lisa for example.

 

 

nature origami 2
Representations of the size of molecules able to be generated with new DNA origami techniques. Source

Another complicating aspect to DNA origami is price. Creating the proper strands to make these complex structures takes a lot of time, and a lot of resources. One way to overcome the price is to develop a long single stranded DNA molecule that possess not only the staple and scaffold strands, but also section able to break apart the other sections of the same molecule (called a DNAzyme). This one strand will therefore be able to cleave the scaffold and staple strands from itself and be able to make the structure, thus decreasing the cost.

 

The advancement of creating DNA structures has been fascinating to watch the last decade, and with these new advancements, DNA origami technology will quickly become a pioneer technique in a variety of scientific fields.

As always, if you have questions, please comment below or email us directly at copernicuscalledblog@gmail.com.

You can also reach us on our various social media outlets, including Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Sources:

  1. Service, Robert F., Scientists shape DNA into doughnuts, teddy bears, and an image of the Mona Lisa. Science. http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/12/scientists-shape-dna-doughnuts-teddy-bears-and-image-mona-lisa
  2. Zhang, Fei, Yan, Hao. DNA self-assembly scaled up. Nature. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-017-07690-y#ref-CR2
  3. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-017-07690-y#ref-CR2
  4. Wagenbauer, K. F. et al. Nature 552, 78–83 (2017)
  5. Tikhomirov, G. et al. Nature 552, 67–71 (2017).
  6. Featured image- https://www.yourgenome.org/activities/origami-dna

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Teenage Nutrition Study Goes Wrong

In research, it is crucial to not only ensure that data collected is meaningful and sound, but also that subjects (whether it be animals or humans) are treated properly.

Recent stories have been released in regards to a nutrition study from researchers at Purdue University that highlight examples of what not to do in a scientific study.

The purpose of the study was to evaluate the effects of low sodium diets on adolescent children with high blood pressure. Children were signed up for a seven week trial over a summer that placed them in campus housing. The project was dubbed Camp DASH, an abbreviation for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension(1,2).

Everything went awry after a video of one of the girl participants showering appeared on social media. The police were notified and other accusations arose involving additional children within the study.

It appears from the start, the study was inadequate in planning, and was not fully prepared for hosting the adolescent children.

Within the first week of the study, it was reported that two participants were arrested due to violence among the adolescent children. Injuries were severe enough warrant a hospital visit for one of the participants. Both of the children were removed from the study, but this highlights the first of many faults in this study; lack of proper supervision(1,2)

Just one week after the two were dismissed, another accusation arose involving one male participant sexually harassing several of the female participants. The male was ejected from the study, but the harassment was not reported to necessary university personnel.(1)

During an unsupervised sauna session, a male reportedly burned another male participant with a hot rock that left second degree burns(1,2)

These are just a few examples of the many incidences that occurred during the time of the study.

The principal investigator of Camp DASH, Dr. Connie Weaver, has been brought under scrutiny for the research, and from the reports, it appears to be just.

Dr. Weaver was notified throughout the entire study of the misconduct going on, and did not make the proper corrections to ensure the safety of the children within the study(1)

In a statement released earlier this week, Dr. Weaver commented on allegations arising from the study.

“I am deeply saddened by the instances that caused Camp DASH to end early. As the principal investigator, I accept responsibility for events that occurred at Camp DASH. The safety and security of research participants always comes first.” (3)

Not only were the accusations hidden, but personnel staff were not properly screened before beginning the study.

Every hired member of the camp  were required to undergo a detailed background check. Only seven of the 132 members were screened (2). Furthermore, each member on the staff was required to complete online training before the study began. Thirteen percent of staff members did not complete the training, including the Camp Manager, who did not complete his training until the day he was terminated.

As a result of the problems within the study, the university ended it two weeks prior to its scheduled completion date, and all of the data generated from the study was discarded.

This is a perfect example of research misconduct during human trials. Not only did the principal investigator overlook accusations, she did fulfill the duties of keeping the subjects safe that were specifically written during her proposal.

This neglect thus resulted in directly wasting 8.8 million dollars from the NIH (federal funding source), and placing over 70 adolescent children in an environment leading to violence and sexual harassment(2).

While the principal investigator and university staff overseeing Camp DASH have not been directly reprimanded, we expect more news to be released as the story develops.

Be sure to look for our updates as news continues.

 

We recommend that if you are interested, to read this detailed report written by Alysa Rollock, the Vice President for Ethics and Compliance at Purdue University.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to comment below or email us directly at copernicuscalledlblog@gmail.com

 

You can also reach us on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

 

Written By: Cody Wolf

Sources

  1. Rollock, Alysa. “Report on Review and Assessment of Purdue University’s Actions in Connection with the Camp DASH Research Study. Accessed online 12/1/2017. https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/documents/campdash-report.pdf

 

  1. Gastelum, Amy. “Purdue University Mounted a Child Nutrition Study. It Went Very, Very Wrong.” Undark.org. https://undark.org/article/purdue-camp-dash-nutrition-weaver/

 

  1. Menchaca, Mateo. “Purdue review board throws out Camp DASH data.” The Exponent. https://www.purdueexponent.org/campus/article_5ec9584b-1565-502d-a6f5-f49498411138.html