Tiny nanopackages built out of DNA help scientists peek at how neurons work

phys.org | 8/29/2017 | Staff
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A team of scientists from the University of Chicago designed a way to use microscopic capsules made out of DNA to deliver a payload of tiny molecules directly into a cell. The technique, detailed Aug. 21 in Nature Nanotechnology, gives scientists an opportunity to understand certain interactions among cells that have previously been hard to track.

"It's really a molecular platform," said Yamuna Krishnan, professor in chemistry and co-author of the study. "There are a host of research problems from cardiology to neurobiology that need a system like this to study very fast molecular phenomena, so it could be applied in a variety of ways."

Cells - Talk - Whispers - Scientists - Krishnan

Cells talk to each other in chemical whispers that occur too fast for scientists to accurately study, Krishnan said. Her team aimed at one class of such chemical communications, known as neurosteroids.

Scientists know neurosteroids are involved in neuronal health, but they're difficult to study because they operate on hair triggers. "The moment you add a neurosteroid, the neuron's already fired," Krishnan said.

Researchers - Account - Cell - Part - Signaling

Researchers want a blow-by-blow account of what happens in the cell as the neurosteroid plays its part in the intricate signaling dance inside a neuron. To do so, they needed to get the neurosteroids to the cell inside a little package, release them on cue and then track what happens. But it's difficult to make a delivery system so airtight that it doesn't leak a couple of molecules before everything's set up.

For this task, Krishnan had a solution:...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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