For the first time, a team of investigators at Carnegie Mellon University has shown that the binding of metal ions can mediate the formation of peptide nucleic acid (PNA) duplexes from single strands of PNA that are only partly complementary. This result opens new opportunities to create functional, three-dimensional nanosize structures such as molecular-scale electronic circuits, which could reduce by thousands of times the size of todays common electronic devices. The research results will appear in the October 26 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
"DNA nanotechnology has led to the construction of sophisticated three-dimensional nano-architectures composed exclusively from nucleic acid strands. These structures can acquire a completely new set of magnetic and electrical properties if metal ions are incorporated in the nucleic acids at specific locations because the metal ions have unpaired electrons," said Catalina Achim, assistant professor of chemistry at the Mellon College of Science. "Our goal is to harness the information storage ability of metal-containing PNAs to build molecular-scale devices – tiny replicas of todays electronic circuit components, such as wires, diodes and transistors."
Normally, DNA occurs as the well-known double helix first proposed by James Watson and Francis Crick 50 years ago. Each strand of the helix consists of a backbone linked to nucleobases, which occupy the inside of the helix. Nucleobases of one strand bind only to specific nucleobases of a complementary strand, and the two strands wind around one another like a twisted ladder. Artificially manufactured PNAs incorporate nucleobases that are bound to a backbone chain of pseudo-amino acids, rather than the sugar-phosphate groups of DNA.
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