Using DNA Nanotubes for Molecular Bridge-Building at the Nanoscale Level

In a microscopic feat that resembled a high-wire circus act, collaborating Johns Hopkins researchers and a scientist from Rockefeller University have coaxed DNA nanotubes to assemble themselves into bridge-like structures arched between two molecular landmarks on the surface of a lab dish. The team captured examples of this unusual nanoscale performance on video ( This self-assembling bridge process, which may someday be used to connect electronic medical devices to living cells, was reported by the team in an article published online on December 19, 2016 in Nature Nanoteechnology. To describe this process, senior author Rebecca Schulman, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering, referred to a death-defying stunt shown in the movie "Man on Wire." The film depicted Philippe Petit's 1974 high-wire walk between the World Trade Center's Twin Towers. Dr. Schulman pointed out that the real-life crossing could not have been accomplished without a critical piece of old-fashioned engineering: Petit's hidden partner used a bow and arrow to launch the wire across the chasm between the towers, allowing it to be secured to each structure. "A feat like that was hard to do on a human scale," Dr. Schulman said. "Could we ask molecules to do the same thing? Could we get molecules to build a 'bridge' between other molecules or landmarks on existing structures?" The paper's lead author, Abdul Mohammed, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in Schulman's lab, used another analogy to describe the molecular bridge-building feat they demonstrated at the nanoscale level. "If this process were to happen at the human scale," Dr.
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