Technological watch

Programmable polymer materials empowered by DNA nanotechnology

Over the past century, synthetic polymers have had a transformative impact on human life, replacing nature?derived materials in many areas. Yet, despite their many advantages, the structure and function of synthetic polymers still appear rudimentary compared to biological matter: cells use dynamic self?assembly to construct complex materials and operate sophisticated macromolecular devices. The field of DNA nanotechnology has demonstrated that synthetic DNA molecules can be programmed to undergo predictable self?assembly, offering unparalleled control over the formation and dynamic properties of artificial nanostructures. Intriguingly, the principles of DNA nanotechnology can be applied to the engineering of soft programmable materials, bringing the abilities of synthetic polymers closer to their biological counterparts. In this perspective, we discuss the unique features of DNA?functionalized polymer materials. We describe design principles that allow researchers to build complex supramolecular architectures with predictable and dynamically adjustable material properties. Finally, we highlight two key application areas where this biologically inspired material class offers particularly promising opportunities: (1) as dynamic matrices for 3D cell and organoid culture and (2) as smart materials for nucleic acid sequencing and pathogen detection.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 870292.