Molecular materials, sensors and circuits with nanometre resolution

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: School of Chemistry


We will use the Feasibility Account to explore how far and how fast new approaches to the DNA-programmed assembly of information-rich materials can be developed, leapfrogging incremental developments and establishing new research areas. We propose an adventurous combination of high-level DNA nanostructure design with state-of-the-art synthetic methodology to create designer materials that can be functionalized with nanometre precision and, through the reversibility of hybridisation and secondary structure formation, are responsive to external stimuli. We will synthesize chemically modified nucleosides bearing designer groups for electronics, biomolecule attachment and polymer-DNA hybrid material formation. Using the exquisite architectural control provided by DNA self-assembly, we will create nanostructures that incorporate these building blocks at programmable positions. We will focus on proof-of-concept experiments in areas covering molecular electronics, responsive materials and high-density sensor arrays.

Planned Impact

The impact of this research on public sector and third sector beneficiaries will be realised by communicating the outputs from this project through regular publication in high-impact peer-reviewed journals, at conference talks and through public engagement activities. All applicants are regularly invited to speak to major national and international meetings, thus maximising the dissemination of the results. New technologies in DNA nanotechnology have considerable potential commercial value. Programmable molecular systems are ideally suited to solve some of the world's most significant challenges, such as the development of inexpensive and novel therapies to fight disease and the implementation of molecular computation, including the ultimate miniaturization of electronic devices. We have a close and proactive engagement with the commercial sector which will maximise the impact in this sector. If scientific results can be patented and commercialised, these will be in a field where a direct impact to the public sector can be expected, particularly in the health sector.


10 25 50
Description The project was concerned with the realisation of new DNA-based nano-structures with applications in hybrid materials, electronics and diagnostics. We have successfully expanded our previous research in the field of DNA-templated synthesis to obtain information-rich oligomeric molecules incorporating building blocks based on both natural amino acid analogues and non-biological functional groups. The DNA templated coupling reaction is based on Wittig chemistry, using amino acid building blocks attached to DNA adapters. Sequential chain transfer reactions have enabled us to obtain long oligomers which were previously inaccessible using similar DNA templated synthesis approaches. We also have also explored the routes to polymer-based DNA hybrid materials and to new electronic materials; however, given the short time frame of the project not all strands are complete. Pilot projects in progress include the formation of responsive hybrid materials based on a combination of thermo-responsive polymers attached to DNA nano structures and the creation of novel electronic wires based on the direct linking of porphyrins along a track laid out on DNA origami tiles. Initial experiments have demonstrated the successful attachment of polymers to DNA tetrahedra, and we have designed and synthesized novel porphyrin-based building blocks suitable for the creation of DNA-templated networks of molecular wires. The findings have been published in high-ranking peer review chemistry journals (Chemical Communications, Journal of the American Chemical Society).
Exploitation Route See 'Exploitation routes' To achieve their full potential impact, the ideas contained in this proposal will require research and development well beyond the scope of this proposal. In the stages of this initial project the principal beneficiary will be the academic community - particularly in the field of molecular nanotechnology, also in synthetic biology. The successful exploitation of an intelligent molecular templating system would lead to industrial interest, particularly in the sectors covering electronics and smart materials (optoelectronic components, electronic wires). Commercial adoption and development has the potential to contribute to the UK economy and to public health and standard of living, for example through innovations in drug development, manufacture and delivery, and in the development of novel prototyping and manufacturing techniques.
Sectors Chemicals,Electronics,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description Peer Review Panel
Geographic Reach Asia 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
Impact The peer review panel selects the proposals of highest impact for science and societal issues.
Description Steering committee
Geographic Reach Asia 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
Impact The steering committee of Diamond Light Source has helped to improve the beamline B23 service and accessibility to both UK and international academic and industrial based researchers, who are working in health care, materials, biotechnology and energy/electronics.
Description Chemically Tagged DNA probes for sensing of DNA methylation biomarkers using Lab-on-a-chip
Amount £85,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Southampton 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2012 
End 12/2016
Description Functional DNA nanomaterials
Amount € 231,283 (EUR)
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 10/2013 
End 09/2015
Description B23 CD 
Organisation Diamond Light Source
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Synthesis of modified DNA for high-end CD spectroscopy analysis using SRCD, data evaluation, writing of publications.
Collaborator Contribution Providing support in CD measurements using synchrotron based CD spectrometer, help in data evaluation and writing of publications.
Impact Multi-disciplinary projects, including synthetic chemistry, spectroscopy, biology and materials science. To date a total of 18 sessions were successfully applied for and obtained. Output: DOI: 10.1039/c5ob01681a DOI: 10.1039/c0ob00535e Theses: Porphyrin - DNA as a scaffold for nanoarchitecture and nanotechnology; TN. Nguyen, 2010 Supramolecular porphyrin arrays on DNA and SWNT scaffolds; A. J. Brewer, 2011 Functionalised DNA - Introducing & Applying a Versatile Porphyrin Molecular Ruler; J. R. Burns, 2011 Porphyrin substituted DNA: Building blocks for novel nanostructures; D. G. Singleton, 2012 The Structural Analysis of Porphyrin Modified DNA and the Construction of a Molecular Wire; J. W. Wood, 2015
Start Year 2009
Description B23 PhD 
Organisation Diamond Light Source
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Design and synthesis of DNA origami platform for enzyme analysis; modifying enzymes with DNA; data acquisition and analysis; writing of publications.
Collaborator Contribution Support in data acquisition, data evaluation and writing of publications. Providing synchrotron based CD spectrometer.
Impact No outputs yet. Multi-disciplinary project involving organic chemistry, biology, spectroscopy and materials science.
Start Year 2016
Description Supramolecular nanoscale arrays of fluorophores 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Dissemination of results in form of poster presentation at the Southampton Nanofabrication Centre Open Day, Sept. 2009, Southampton.

Discussions about potential future research collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2009