Calling it an ‘easy-to-use device’, the scientists said that this nanoantenna will help scientists identify new drugs and better understand nanotechnologies.

By Harsh Vardhan 

A team of chemists from the University of Montreal has designed the world’s smallest antenna using human DNA, which is the building block of genetic material and measures 20,000 times smaller than a human hair. Calling it an ‘easy-to-use device’, the scientists said that this nanoantenna will help scientists identify new drugs and better understand natural and human-designed nanotechnologies. Fitted with fluorescent molecules at the end, this nanoantenna has basically been designed to monitor the motions of proteins. Professor Alexis Vallée-Bélisle, who is also the study’s senior author said as per the University’s official release.

The results are so exciting that we are currently working on setting up a start-up company to commercialize and make this nanoantenna available to most researchers and the pharmaceutical industry.

How does nanoantenna work?

As mentioned above, the nanoantenna’s purpose is to monitor the motion of proteins, wherein it will basically observe the structural change of proteins over time. The scientists explained that the design of this device is inspired by the ‘Lego-like’ properties of DNA, which helped in the manufacturing of a five-nanometre long antenna fitted with fluorescent ends. Explaining the working of this device, another study author Scott Harroun said that the antenna signals a structural change of proteins by emitting light in different colours.READ | Scientists to study ISS-bound astronauts to find anti-aging solution for Mars missions

“Like a two-way radio that can both receive and transmit radio waves, the fluorescent nanoantenna receives light in one colour, or wavelength, and depending on the protein movement it senses, then transmits light back in another colour, which we can detect”, Harroun said in the release.

The scientists chose DNA to engineer the nanoantennas as they believe that DNA chemistry is relatively simple and can be easily programmed. According to the experts, who published their research in the journal Nature Methods, reported that using their antenna, they were able to detect the function of alkaline phosphatase, an enzyme associated with diseases such as cancers and intestinal inflammation. READ | Scientists to blast off tardigrades into interstellar space using massive lasers

After successful testing of their device, the scientists say that apart from using this technology to develop improved nanomachines, it can also be used to discover new drugs. “Perhaps what we are most excited by is the realization that many labs around the world, equipped with a conventional spectrofluorometer, could readily employ these nanoantennas to study their favourite protein, such as to identify new drugs or to develop new nanotechnologies,” Vallée-Bélisle said as per the release.