Researchers have created a programmable DNA thermometer that is 20,000 times smaller than a strand of human hair.
This scientific advance — reported in the journal Nano Letters — may significantly aid our understanding of natural and human designed nanotechnologies by enabling measuring of temperature at a nanoscale.
Over 60 years ago, researchers discovered that the DNA molecules that encode our genetic information can unfold when heated.
“In recent years, biochemists also discovered that biomolecules such as proteins or RNA — a molecule similar to DNA — are employed as nanothermometers in living organisms and report temperature variation by folding or unfolding,” said senior author Alexis Vallee-Belisle from University of Montreal in Canada.
“Inspired by those natural nanothermometers — which are typically 20,000 times smaller than human hair — we have created various DNA structures that can fold and unfold at specifically defined temperatures,” Vallee-Belisle said.
One of the main advantages of using DNA to engineer molecular thermometers is that DNA chemistry is relatively simple and programmable.
The researchers believe that these nanoscale thermometers open many exciting avenues in the emerging field of nanotechnology, and may even help us to better understand molecular biology.
“There are still many unanswered questions in biology,” Vallee-Belisle said. “For example, we know that the temperature inside the human body is maintained at 37 ° Celsius, but we have no idea whether there is a large temperature variation at the nanoscale inside each individual cell,” Vallee-Belisle pointed out.