Biology

Glowing nanoantennas made of DNA spy on proteins in action

Glowing nanoantennas made of D...
An illustration of the new DNA nanoantenna, with its fluorescent receiver section highlighted in green
An illustration of the new DNA nanoantenna, with its fluorescent receiver section highlighted in green
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An illustration of the new DNA nanoantenna, with its fluorescent receiver section highlighted in green
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An illustration of the new DNA nanoantenna, with its fluorescent receiver section highlighted in green

Examining the tiny world of proteins is tricky, but researchers at the Université de Montréal have developed a new tool that can let scientists peer closer, aiding study of disease and drug development. The team used DNA to create nanoantennas that fluoresce in response to different protein functions.

The nanoantennas developed by the team are synthesized from short segments of DNA, with fluorescent dyes attached to certain parts. The dye acts as the “receiver” part of the tiny antenna, and it can sense the molecular surface and interactions of a particular protein, then relay that information to observing scientists.

"Like a two-way radio that can both receive and transmit radio waves, the fluorescent nanoantenna receives light in one color, or wavelength, and depending on the protein movement it senses, then transmits light back in another color, which we can detect,” says Alexis Vallée-Bélisle, senior author of the study.

By tweaking the length and structure of the DNA segments, and attaching different dyes to various places, the researchers were able to create nanoantennas that would give off different signals when certain protein functions took place. This could allow scientists to monitor the motions, actions and changes of proteins over time, which is normally hard to observe directly.

"For example, we were able to detect, in real time and for the first time, the function of the enzyme alkaline phosphatase with a variety of biological molecules and drugs," says Scott Harroun, first author of the study. "This enzyme has been implicated in many diseases, including various cancers and intestinal inflammation.”

The team says that the new nanoantennas could be useful to study biology closer, including how malfunctions in proteins can lead to disease, and potentially open new avenues for drug development. Importantly, the DNA assembly of the antennas is easy to do and highly programmable to target a range of proteins, and the signals can be viewed through run-of-the-mill fluorescence spectroscopy.

The research was published in the journal Nature Methods.

Source: Université de Montréal

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