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Nano-sized boxes with great potential

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Researchers from Aarhus University have successfully produced a nanoscale box, which is the most complex man-made nanostructure ever generated by self-assembly.

The building blocks used to make the nanoscale box are DNA molecules. Almost as if by magic, hundreds of DNA molecules assemble themselves to form a precise structure, which is designed digitally by scientists. The nano-box even has a lid that only opens if it comes in contact with specific defined substances. This provides an opportunity to use the nano-box as a diagnostic sensor that can reveal the presence of viruses or cancer, for example. In the long term, it might be possible to control the release of medicine into diseased cells.

Figure 1: 3D image of the nano-box. (a) The whole box is shown here with its height, width and length in nanometres. A nanometre is a billionth of a metre. (b) Transverse image of the nano-box showing the interior cavity that can be used for functions such as transporting medicine into diseased cells in the body.
The images are determined from individual particles observed using cryogenic transmission electron microscopy.

The Aarhus researchers are already carrying out experiments to pack biological enzymes into nano-boxes and thereby control their activity. They are also working on packing medicine molecules into boxes and testing the stability of these boxes in blood and cells. The ability of nano-boxes to react within their local environment – e.g. blood – and release medicine provides hope that they can be used to target cancer cells or cells affected by viruses.

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