Our Spotlight is on Dr. Mark Bathe, Associate Professor of Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Mark’s lab focuses on in silico design and programming of synthetic nucleic acid scaffolds for engineering light-harvesting antennas, multi-enzyme cascades, cellular delivery vehicles, and fluorescent biomolecular probes, which he assays using innovative quantitative imaging techniques.
NVIDIA: Mark, tell us about your work with structural nucleic acids and DNA nanotechnology.
Mark: DNA is best known to us as the molecule of life: It stores our genetic information and transmits that information from generation to generation.
A lesser known, powerful alternative use for DNA is that of a programmable structural element for engineering molecular scaffolds of precise shape and size at the nanometer-scale.
This molecular engineering paradigm dates back to early work by Nadrian Seeman in the 1980s, when he demonstrated theoretically that DNA could be programmed to form large-scale synthetic assemblies due to its unique and highly specific basepairing properties.
Since that landmark work, the field of molecular engineering using nucleic acids has witnessed explosive growth. Unlike proteins, DNA is highly programmable structurally because it can be designed to robustly self-assemble into large-scale molecular architectures of precise nanometer-scale structural features, dimensions, and mechanical properties.
These assemblies can subsequently be functionalized chemically using lipids, dyes, and proteins for diverse applications in biomolecular science and technology.
The rapidly decreasing cost of synthetic DNA, together with rational computational design rules, now enable a plethora of structured nanoscale materials to be designed, with the ultimate aim of replicating the function of biological protein assemblies that have evolved over billions of years.