Designer piercings

A new method which streamlines the design and construction of synthetic membrane pores could improve a range of scientific processes, including speeding up the development of new drugs, and enabling more efficient disease diagnosis through DNA sequence detection

In future, this new process will enable us to tailor DNA pores for a much wider range of applications than were previously possible
   - Ulrich Keyser

The new approach, which uses self-assembling DNA building blocks to build artificial gateways through cell membranes, provides a simple and low cost tool for synthetic biology. Details of the technique were published earlier this week in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

Membrane pores control the transport of essential molecules across the otherwise impermeable membranes that surround cells in living organisms. Typically made from proteins, pores of different sizes control the flow of ions and molecules both and in and out of the cell as part of an organism’s metabolism.

The ability to create synthetic channels through cell membranes enables numerous applications in the life sciences, including sequence-specific DNA detection, which makes the prediction and diagnosis of disease more efficient, and individualised treatment more affordable.

Tailored pores can also aid in the development of new drugs. Prototype drugs are typically designed to affect a biological target, but are not engineered to cross the cell membrane. Self-assembled pores provide a route for drugs to pass into cells, enabling much faster pre-clinical screening for activity.

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Image:The DNA nanopore (in blue) is a tube formed of folded strands of DNA. The porphyrin anchors, in red, anchor it securely between the two layers of the cell membrane (in grey), which is shown in cross-section.
Credit: Angewandte Chemie

Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge


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