Dynamic DNA nanotechnology
Dynamic DNA nanotechnology often makes use of toehold-mediated strand displacement reactions. In this example, the red strand binds to the single stranded toehold region on the green strand (region 1), and then in a branch migration
process across region 2, the blue strand is displaced and freed from the complex. Reactions like these are used to dynamically reconfigure or assemble nucleic acid nanostructures. In addition, the red and blue strands can be used as signals in a molecular logic gate
Dynamic DNA nanotechnology focuses on forming nucleic acid systems with designed dynamic functionalities related to their overall structures, such as computation and mechanical motion. There is some overlap between structural and dynamic DNA nanotechnology, as structures can be formed through annealing and then reconfigured dynamically, or can be made to form dynamically in the first place.
DNA complexes have been made that change their conformation upon some stimulus, making them one form of nanorobotics. These structures are initially formed in the same way as the static structures made in structural DNA nanotechnology, but are designed so that dynamic reconfiguration is possible after the initial assembly. The earliest such device made use of the transition between the B-DNA and Z-DNA forms to respond to a change in buffer conditions by undergoing a twisting motion.
This reliance on buffer conditions caused all devices to change state at the same time. Subsequent systems could change states based upon the presence of control strands, allowing multiple devices to be independently operated in solution. Some examples of such systems are a "molecular tweezers" design that has an open and a closed state, a device that could switch from a paranemic-crossover (PX) conformation to a double-junction (JX2) conformation, undergoing rotational motion in the process, and a two-dimensional array that could dynamically expand and contract in response to control strands. Structures have also been made that dynamically open or close, potentially acting as a molecular cage to release or reveal a functional cargo upon opening.
DNA walkers are a class of nucleic acid nanomachines that exhibit directional motion along a linear track. A large number of schemes have been demonstrated. One strategy is to control the motion of the walker along the track using control strands that need to be manually added in sequence. Another approach is to make use of restriction enzymes or deoxyribozymes to cleave the strands and cause the walker to move forward, which has the advantage of running autonomously. A later system could walk upon a two-dimensional surface rather than a linear track, and demonstrated the ability to selectively pick up and move molecular cargo. Additionally, a linear walker has been demonstrated that performs DNA-templated synthesis as the walker advances along the track, allowing autonomous multistep chemical synthesis directed by the walker. The synthetic DNA walkers' function is similar to that of the proteins dynein and kinesin.
Strand displacement cascades
Cascades of strand displacement reactions can be used for either computational or structural purposes. An individual strand displacement reaction involves revealing a new sequence in response to the presence of some initiator strand. Many such reactions can be linked into a cascade where the newly revealed output sequence of one reaction can initiate another strand displacement reaction elsewhere. This in turn allows for the construction of chemical reaction networks with many components, exhibiting complex computational and information processing abilities. These cascades are made energetically favorable through the formation of new base pairs, and the entropy gain from disassembly reactions. Strand displacement cascades allow isothermal operation of the assembly or computational process, in contrast to traditional nucleic acid assembly's requirement for a thermal annealing step, where the temperature is raised and then slowly lowered to ensure proper formation of the desired structure. They can also support catalytic function of the initiator species, where less than one equivalent of the initiator can cause the reaction to go to completion.
Strand displacement complexes can be used to make molecular logic gates capable of complex computation. Unlike traditional electronic computers, which use electric current as inputs and outputs, molecular computers use the concentrations of specific chemical species as signals. In the case of nucleic acid strand displacement circuits, the signal is the presence of nucleic acid strands that are released or consumed by binding and unbinding events to other strands in displacement complexes. This approach has been used to make logic gates such as AND, OR, and NOT gates. More recently, a four-bit circuit was demonstrated that can compute the square root of the integers 0–15, using a system of gates containing 130 DNA strands.
Another use of strand displacement cascades is to make dynamically assembled structures. These use a hairpin structure for the reactants, so that when the input strand binds, the newly revealed sequence is on the same molecule rather than disassembling. This allows new opened hairpins to be added to a growing complex. This approach has been used to make simple structures such as three- and four-arm junctions and dendrimers.