UC SANTA BARBARA (US)—Two recent studies have introduced “green” approaches to nanobiotechology by forgoing the use of artificial compounds.

The work demonstrates the synthesis of nanosize biological particles with the potential to fight cancer and other illnesses.

Luc Jaeger, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at University of California at Santa Barbara, says that there is nothing short of a revolution going on in his field—one that permeates all areas of biochemistry, especially his area of nanobiotechnology.

The revolution involves understanding the role of RNA in cells.

“Considering the fact that up to 90 percent of the human genome is transcribed into RNA, it becomes clear that RNA is one of the most important biopolymers on which life is based,” says Jaeger. “We are still far from understanding all the tremendous implications of RNA in living cells.”

Jaeger’s team is putting together complex three-dimensional RNA molecules—nanosize polyhedrons that could be used to fight disease. The molecules self assemble into the new shapes.

“We are interested in using RNA assemblies to deliver silencing RNAs and therapeutic RNA aptamers to target cancer and other diseases,” says Jaeger. “It is clear that RNA is involved in a huge number of key processes that are related to health issues.”

Jaeger believes the RNA-based approaches to delivering new therapies in the body will be safer than those using artificial compounds that might have undesirable side effects down the line.

“By using RNA molecules as our primary medium, we are practicing ‘green’ nanobiotechnology,” explains Jaeger. “The research program developed in my lab at UCSB aims at contributing in a positive way to medicine and synthetic biology.

This animation depicting a three-dimensional six-strand RNA molecule illustrates the nanosize particles that could be used to fight disease. (Credit: Cody Geary and Kirill A. Afonin)

“We try to avoid any approaches that raise controversial bioethical issues in the public square. It’s not an easy task, but I am convinced that it will pay off in the long run.”

The more recent of the two scientific papers describing the new work was pub6-stranded RNA cube published this week by Nature Nanotechnology. The earlier paper was published online July 18 by Nature Chemistry.

The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Resource for Automated Molecular Microscopy located at Scripps Institute in La Jolla, Calif.

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