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RNA could form building blocks for nanomachines

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Microscopic scaffolding to house the tiny components of nanotech devices could be built from RNA, the same substance that shuttles messages around a cell's nucleus, reports a Purdue University research group.

By encouraging ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules to self-assemble into 3-D shapes resembling spirals, triangles, rods and hairpins, the group has found what could be a method of constructing lattices on which to build complex microscopic machines. From such RNA blocks, the group has already constructed arrays that are several micrometers in diameter - still microscopically small, but exciting because manipulating controllable structures of this size from nanoparticles is one of nanotechnology's main goals.

"Our work shows that we can control the construction of three-dimensional arrays made from RNA blocks of different shapes and sizes," said Peixuan Guo, who is a professor of molecular virology in Purdue's School of Veterinary Medicine. "With further research, RNA could form the superstructures for tomorrow's nanomachines."

The paper, which Guo co-authored with Dan Shu, Wulf-Dieter Moll, Zhaoxiang Deng and Chengde Mao, all of Purdue, appears in the August issue of the journal Nano Letters.

Nanotechnologists, like those in Guo's group, hope to build microscopic devices with sizes that are best measured in nanometers - or billionths of a meter. Because nature routinely creates nano-sized structures for living things, many researchers are turning to biology for their inspiration and construction tools.

"Biology builds beautiful nanoscale structures, and we'd like to borrow some of them for nanotechnology," Guo said. "The trouble is, when we're working with such tiny blocks, we are short of tiny steam shovels to push them around. So we need to design and construct materials that can assemble themselves."

Organisms are built in large part of three main types of building
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Contact: Chad Boutin
cboutin@purdue.edu
765-494-2081
Purdue University
11-Aug-2004


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