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Origami nanostructures to track individual molecules


One of chemistry's greatest challenges is investigating reaction mechanisms at the level of single molecules. This can be performed using Raman spectroscopy - provided that molecules and metallic nanoparticles can be arranged with great precision. Based on a joint appointment by the Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und -prüfung (BAM) and the University of Potsdam, Prof. Ilko Bald and his team are researching the arrangement of nanoparticles and molecules using DNA origami nanostructures. Prof. Bald received a prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) for this research. The award is endowed with around 2 million euros for setting up his own research group. A total of 2,538 applications have been submitted - of which only 329 are being supported as ERC Grant for pioneering research and scientific excellence.

"SMART DNA: Single-Molecule Analytical Raman Tools based on DNA nanostructures" is the project that will run for five years and be carried out at the University of Potsdam. The research group also includes four Ph.D. students from the Graduate School SALSA - School of Analytical Sciences Adlershof (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), where Prof. Bald has been on the faculty since 2013.

"The ERC award emphasises the outstanding performance of the team headed by Prof. Bald," says BAM President Prof. Ulrich Panne. "Within this joint project, the University of Potsdam and BAM are combining scientific know-how from analytical chemistry and nanotechnology to investigate specific questions from practice."

In essence, it is about developing new tools that can be used to perform highly sensitive measurements on relatively complex molecules such as proteins to ultimately understand their reactions. "Above all, we are interested in reactions in which electrons are transferred from a nanoparticle to a molecule," explains Prof. Bald. "These reactions may, for example, play a role in cancer treatment with tumour radiotherapy." For this purpose, artificial DNA nanostructures are manufactured using the origami technique and functionalised by metallic nanoparticles. This enables studying chemical reaction mechanisms in great detail. This can help to develop new forms of treatment.

"We are very glad that Prof. Bald has joined ranks of the exclusive club of ERC grant recipients. As a research university we are very pleased about this special award and say congratulations to Mr. Bald on his great success," says the President of the University of Potsdam, Prof. Oliver Günther, Ph.D. The techniques developed in the project can enable novel investigations on biomolecules that are relevant to a variety of research areas.

Source: Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung (BAM)