Qualitative and high-resolution images premiered at the Berkley Lab as the fruit of the labour invested by the Department of Energy’s researchers there. They succeeded in captivating unparalleled and first-ever 3D High-Resolution images sourced from double-helix DNA fragments annexed to the either hems of gold nano-particles. The clarity attained in the images is remarkable as it punctiliously outlines each detail of the flexible structure of the DNA segments giving them the semblance of nano-scale “jump ropes”.
This path-breaking imaging capability, initiated and achieved premierly by Berkeley Lab scientists, could lend a pivotal assistance in the utilisation of DNA segments as building blocks for molecular devices that serve as nano-scale drug-delivery systems, markers for biological research as well as components for computer memory and electronic devices.
This breakthrough could also pave the path for contriving images of affliction-pertinent proteins that have eluded the preceding imaging devices and techniques employed thus far by scientists and researchers. Another significant avenue of utilisation could lie in capturing images of the assembly process that formulated DNA from disparate and single strands.
The figurative appearance of the coiled DNA strands, which were crammed between polygon-shaped gold nano-particles, were rebuilt in 3-D using a cutting-edge electron microscope technique colloquially known as IPET- Individual-Particle Electron tomography. This was amalgamated with a protein-staining process and innovative software that proffered formative details as specific as a scale of just 2 nanometres (nm), or about two billionth of a metre.
Gang Ren, the Berkeley Lab scientist whose staunch conviction in this innovation urged him to guide the research, said: "We had no idea about what the double-strand DNA would look like between the nano-gold particles. This is the first time for directly visualising an individual double-strand DNA segment in 3-D."
The present 3-D reconstructions illuminate the rudimentary nano-scale structure of the samples, but in accordace with Ren’s belief, this could progress to the next level wherein the resolution could amount to a sub-nanometre scale.
He confers, "Even in this current state, we begin to see 3-D structures at 1- to 2-nanometre resolution, through better instrumentation and improved computational algorithms, it would be promising to push the resolution to that visualising a single DNA helix within an individual protein."
This methodology has elicited the interest of numerous pharmaceutical companies already, as per Ren’s account. Even nanotechnology researchers have expressed an avid enthusiasm for this technique. This is why the rest of the team of researchers are already planning research projects for imminent future.
The potential analytical studies would entail attempts directed towards the amelioration of the imaging resolution for intricate structures that incorporate more DNA segments as a sort of "DNA origami," in the words of Gang Ren. Researchers aspire to contrive as well as refine the conceptualisation of nano-scale molecular devices using DNA segments that can, for instance, store and deliver drugs to targeted areas in the body.
Ren further opines, "DNA is easy to program, synthesise and replicate, so it can be used as a special material to quickly self-assemble into nanostructures and to guide the operation of molecular-scale devices. Our current study is just a proof of concept for imaging these kinds of molecular devices' structures."