Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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From the Deep

Nanotechnologists build designs of silica inspired by the shapes of microorganisms called diatoms

04 August 2018

From the Deep

In oceans, lakes and rivers all over the world, microorganisms called diatoms are sculpting strangely shaped shells – pyramids, stars, bowl-like curves, all built slowly from layer upon layer of silica. Inspired by these creative microbes, nanotechnologists are creating their own sturdy silica designs (shown on the top row) with thousands of uses. First they use DNA origami to produce a sort of scaffolding out of a mesh of DNA strands. Next, clumps of silica are pulled towards the DNA by their electrical charge. Layered up like an artificial diatom shell, the finished biomimetic structures (pictured here with two different types of high-powered microscope) are much stronger than DNA scaffolding alone. They could be just the thing to deliver drugs inside the human body, all while withstanding the sloshing currents in our veins and tissues – much like the diatoms bobbing in the ocean waves.

Written by John Ankers

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