Developments in nanobiotechnology point to medical applications

Aug 31, 2010
Top row, three different RNA objects rendered from molecular computer models: from left, RNA antiprism composed of eight RNAs, a six-stranded RNA cube, and a 10-stranded RNA cube. Bottom row, the corresponding three-dimensional reconstructions of the objects obtained from cryo-electron microscopy. Credit: Cody Geary and Kirill A. Afonin

Two new groundbreaking scientific papers by researchers at UC Santa Barbara demonstrate the synthesis of nanosize biological particles with the potential to fight cancer and other illnesses. The studies introduce new approaches that are considered "green" nanobiotechnology because they use no artificial compounds.

Luc Jaeger, associate professor of chemistry and at UCSB, explained that there is nothing short of a revolution going on in his field -- one that permeates all areas of biochemistry, especially his area of nanobiotechnology. The revolution involves understanding the role of RNA in cells.

"Considering the fact that up to 90 percent of the is transcribed into RNA, it becomes clear that RNA is one of the most important biopolymers on which life is based," said Jaeger. "We are still far from understanding all the tremendous implications of RNA in living cells."

Jaeger's team is putting together complex three-dimensional RNA molecules -- nanosize polyhedrons that could be used to fight disease. The molecules self assemble into the new shapes. The work is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and there is a patent pending jointly between NIH and UCSB on the new designs.

"We are interested in using RNA assemblies to deliver silencing RNAs and therapeutic RNA aptamers to target cancer and other diseases," said Jaeger. "It is clear that RNA is involved in a huge number of key processes that are related to health issues."

Jaeger believes the RNA-based approaches to delivering new therapies in the body will be safer than those using artificial compounds that might have undesirable side effects down the line.

"By using as our primary medium, we are practicing 'green' ," explained Jaeger. "The research program developed in my lab at UCSB aims at contributing in a positive way to medicine and synthetic biology. We try to avoid any approaches that raise controversial bioethical issues in the public square. It's not an easy task, but I am convinced that it will pay off in the long run."

The more recent of the two scientific papers describing the new work -- "In vitro assembly of cubic RNA-based scaffolds designed in silicon" -- published online Monday, August 30, by Nature Nanotechnology. The earlier paper -- "A polyhedron made of tRNAs" by Severcan and colleagues -- was published online on July 18 by Nature Chemistry. The print edition of this article will be published in Nature Chemistry's September issue.

Explore further: Crystallizing the DNA nanotechnology dream: Scientists have designed the first large DNA crystals

Related Stories

Scientists build nanoscale 'jigsaw' puzzles made of RNA

Dec 20, 2004

Scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, working at the leading edge of bionanotechnology, are using assembly and folding principles of natural RNA, or ribonucleic acid, to build beautiful ...

'Quiet revolution' may herald new RNA therapeutics

Jan 21, 2007

Scientists at the University of Oxford have identified a surprising way of switching off a gene involved in cell division. The mechanism involves a form of RNA, a chemical found in cell nuclei, whose role was previously unknown, ...

The RNA drug revolution -- a new approach to gene therapy

Jan 23, 2008

RNA interference (RNAi) represents an innovative new strategy for using small RNA molecules to silence specific genes associated with disease processes, and a series of review articles describing the state-of-the-art and ...

Human cells can copy not only DNA, but also RNA

Aug 10, 2010

Single-molecule sequencing technology has detected and quantified novel small RNAs in human cells that represent entirely new classes of the gene-translating molecules, confirming a long-held but unproven hypothesis that ...

Researchers Studying Little-Known Genetic Sequences

Nov 13, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- University of Arizona researchers are among a group of scientists who have discovered a source of previously scarce small RNA molecules. Their finding, which was recently published in the Proceedings of th ...

Recommended for you

Energy storage of the future

Oct 20, 2014

Personal electronics such as cell phones and laptops could get a boost from some of the lightest materials in the world.

User comments : 0