NC State team: Gold nanoparticles can control the shape of DNA, RNA

Simulation of DNA wrapped around a gold nanoparticle--Courtesy of NC State

DNA and RNA hold a supercomputer's worth of information in a very small space in the nucleus of a cell. And how they are packed so tightly in such a tight volume can offer new ways to pack the material in synthetic capsules for the delivery of genetics-based therapeutics, researchers at North Carolina State University have said.

Enter that all-purpose drug delivery tool: the gold nanoparticle. In this case, the gold nanoparticles, which hold an electric charge exceptionally well for their size, can take the place of naturally occurring histones, positively charged proteins that help shape DNA. By adding positive charges to and removing them from the gold nanoparticles, the scientists were able to twist and turn strands of nucleic acids to potentially control their effect as a therapeutic tool.

Packing and unpacking the genetic material can also play a role in developing medications that require DNA to reach a target first and then unravel and perform a function once it arrives.

"In nature, meters of DNA are packed tightly into every living cell," NC State's Jessica Nash, lead author of the study, said in a statement. "This is possible because the DNA is wrapped tightly around a positively charged protein called a histone. We'd like to be able to shape DNA using a similar approach that replaces the histone with a charged gold nanoparticle. So we used computational techniques to determine exactly how different charges influence the curvature of nucleic acids--DNA and RNA."

The team published its results in the journal ACS Nano.

- here's the NC State story
- and here's the ACS Nano article
- and the simulation video

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