DNA barcoding advances nanoparticle self-assembly

By Wendy Plump

More than two decades ago, scientists demonstrated that the self-assembly of nanoparticles — for fabrication of miniaturized devices, for example — was possible if the nanoparticles could be labeled with a known number of DNA molecules.

For this to work, scientists would need a way to control the number of DNA molecules on the surface of nanoparticles, a challenge that went unmet for 25 years.

Now, researchers led by Haw Yang, professor of chemistry, have created a sorting technology that distinguishes nanoparticles by exploiting DNA’s programming language, specifically its ability to selectively associate and recognize complementary sequences.

Yang and postdoctoral research associate Nyssa Emerson published the work July 11, 2022, in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The researchers used a process called DNA barcoding, which functions much like the codes used by supermarket scanners to identify a product. Each nanoparticle is assigned a unique barcode. The barcode itself consists of a short strand of DNA affixed to the nanoparticle.

“We can change the letters of that code, and that tells us what DNA molecule will react with what other DNA molecule,” Emerson said. “There’s really not anything else that is this programmable and easily made.”