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New Class Of Protein-DNA Nanostructures

Protein Design: Computational modeling used to design protein that co-assembles with DNA to form nanoparticles and nanowires

by Stu Borman
September 7, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 35

Researchers have used computational design to create a protein that coassembles noncovalently with DNA to form a new class of nanomaterials. In previous protein-DNA hybrids, proteins were covalently attached to nanostructures preformed from DNA. In the new material, Yun (Kurt) Mou, Stephen L. Mayo, and coworkers at Caltech instead got a protein to coassemble with DNA from the get-go (Nature 2015, DOI: 10.1038/nature14874). They believe this design allows greater structural diversity and better control of self-assembly than earlier protein-DNAs. They computer-engineered a fruit fly protein, engrailed homeodomain, to form dimers that each bind two DNA fragments. The dimers self-assemble with DNA to form nanoparticles or single-molecule-width nanowires. Christof M. Niemeyer of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, in Germany, comments that it remains to be seen if the hybrids will outperform nanomaterials composed of peptides, proteins, or nucleic acids alone but that the work “nicely demonstrates how today’s power of computational design can be harnessed to create entirely novel biomaterials.” Itamar Willner of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem adds that the new nanomaterials could have biomedical uses and “provide functional scaffolds for electronic and optoelectronic applications.”

Nanowire, in which protein dimers (ribbons) link DNA fragments, adopts a helical conformation.
Credit: Nature
This nanowire, in which protein dimers (ribbons) link DNA fragments, adopts a helical conformation.


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