DNA Origami is a technique for folding strands of DNA into very precise shapes to make objects that are 1/10,000th the size of a human hair.
DNA strands are much like strands of pearls made up of chains of 4 amino acids: cytosine, guanine, adenine and thymine abbreviated as C, G, A, and T.
Units on one strand interact with units on a second strand, binding together to create the double helix shape. There are rules for the interaction though, A only binds to T and C only binds to G for example.
Because of these rules scientists have been able to create DNA strands with a precise sequence that allows them to interact with each other to form 2 and 3 dimensional shapes.
For example if you fold a sequence so that an A comes into contact with a T they’ll bind and that fold will be held together.
A scientist name Hadrian Seeman came up with the idea of DNA origami in 1982 after looking at an MC Escher Painting called Depth.
In 1991 he created his first cube made out of folded DNA.
In 2006 another scientist named Paul Rothemund developed with a much easier method and coined the phrase “DNA Origami”.
His method involved folding large DNA sequences that were obtained from viruses and holding the folds in place using small “sticky” DNA sequences that acted like glue.
The method was so effective that scientists were able to fold squares, triangles, stars and even smiley faces.
An entire object could be folded in a matter of hours as well.
These folded DNA shapes were even featured at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Since then scientists have been folding much more sophisticated shapes and testing them for all kinds of different applications.
For example, one group of scientists created a box with a “lock” that would open when the lock was bound with a specific molecule, the “key”.
This box could then be used to carry specific medicines to specific locations in the body.
DNA origami can also potentially be used to create microscopic components for tiny electric chips since it’s possible for metal particles and other materials to stick to the DNA strands.
Another group of scientists at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland is researching DNA to fight cancer.
Many conventional chemotherapy drugs attack the DNA of cancer cells by inserting themselves into their DNA structure and then blocking their ability to transfer information.
However a lot of cancer cells have adapted to this treatment and are able to detox the chemotherapy drugs through special channels they’ve developed.
DNA Origami however can be used to deliver chemotherapy drugs in a way that can’t be blocked and should have no problems killing chemotherapy-resistant cancer cells.
Their method has already been tested in the laboratory and has been successful against both Breast Cancer and Leukaemia cells.
The results are incredibly promising and it looks like DNA origami could be incredibly promising for fighting cancer and saving lives.