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Construction of a structurally defined double-stranded DNA catenane

8 April 2011 CEF scientist Alexander Heckel and his PhD student Thorsten Schmidt succeed in creating two interlocking rings of DNA. This sets a milestone in the field of DNA nanotechnology.


Creating artificial structures from DNA is the objective of DNA nanotechnology. This new discipline makes use of the ability of natural DNA strains to self-assemble. As reported by the two scientist the latest online issue of the journal Nano Letters, they now succeeded in creating two rings of DNA only 18 nanometers in size and to interlock them like two links in a chain.

Such a structure is called catenan, a term derived from the Latin word catena (chain). Schmidt, who got married during the time he was working on the nano-rings, believes that they are probably the world’s smallest wedding rings.

From a scientific perspective, the structure is a milestone in the field of DNA nanotechnology, since the two rings of the catenan are not fixed, but can rotate freely under certain conditions. They are therefore suitable as components of molecular machines or of a molecular motor. “We still have a long way to go before DNA structures such as the catenan can be used in everyday items”, says Alexander Heckel, “but in the near future structures of DNA can be used to arrange and study proteins or other molecules that are too small for a direct manipulation.” This way, DNA nano-architectures could become a versatile tool for the nanometer world, to which access is difficult.

Thorsten Schmidt has dedicated this publication to his wife, Dr. Diana Gonçalves Schmidt, who also worked in the Heckel research group.

Further information:
Link to full article


Prof. Dr. Alexander Heckel, Exzellenzcluster Makromolekulare Komplexe, Campus Riedberg, Tel: (069) 798- 29821 (Sekretariat); heckel@em.uni-frankfurt.de;

Dr. Thorsten Schmidt ist inzwischen an der Universität Harvard, USA, Tel.: +1-857-334-9212 Thorsten.Schmidt@wyss.harvard.edu, Interviews sind möglich über Skype, Skype-Name t.l.schmidt