Saturday, August 21st, 2021 -- The idea of DNA origami has been around for years; researchers from around the world can “program” DNA to self-assemble into different shapes (like smiley faces and swirls) for different functions. In 2019, researchers from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have shaped DNA origami into virus traps, making the possibility of a universal antiviral treatment into a reality.
In DNA origami*, researchers create a “scaffold” (one entire side of the DNA) and multiple “staples” (smaller sections of the other side of the DNA). The staples are written to be complementary to certain parts of the scaffold, thus making them attach to the scaffold in a specific way. This lets the DNA fold in certain places and create a structure.
*The name “origami” comes from the folding process.
Similar to how a person folds an origami paper, researchers can target where DNA folds by choosing how long each scaffold is, ultimately creating any desired shape. They can also write parts of the DNA to be able to attach to other chemicals and materials by putting the bases in a certain order.
Researchers at the TUM created virus traps: hollow, half-shelled DNA origami whose insides are lined with molecules that bind to viruses. When these molecules bind to viruses, creating “binding points”, the DNA origami blocks the virus from infecting another cell and replicating. The more molecules that bind to the virus, the more effective the virus trap is at blocking the virus. Currently, 5 binding points are needed for an 80% blocking effectiveness; thus, full blocking comes from only a few more binding points.
The virus traps also have another feature: their shell is in the shape of an icosahedron. The researchers at TUM did this because the outside parts of viruses are patterns of basic geometric shapes. Thus, the triangular surfaces of an icosahedron make the viruses fit better in the virus traps.
The DNA origami virus traps have already gone through several tests. For example, one test shows that the virus traps have a 95% accuracy of self-assembly. Also, they were tested on cores of the Hepatitis B virus and adeno-associated viruses (AAVs) with promising results: they have a “significant effectiveness” as long as the DNA assembles itself into the right size to trap the viruses. Researchers have already started to test the DNA origami virus traps in mice and are confident that it can be safely used in humans.
Soon, the virus traps could be altered to play important roles in vaccination, gene therapy, and drug transportation in the body. But the biggest takeaway from this development is that we may be able to use them against any type of virus, including coronaviruses. With the presence of a viral pandemic and the small number of effective medications to treat viral infections, DNA origami virus traps are an especially important and a hopeful innovation in the fields of biotechnology and medicine.
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Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA): strands of genetic information; contains 2 sides, is made up of 4 bases that repeat and alternate
Complementary: paired together to complete something (i.e.: complementary bases from both sides of DNA attach to each other)
Molecule: group of 2 or more atoms with specific chemical properties
Icosahedron: a 3D shape with 20 triangular sides