"At this point, this is basic science. We're trying to figure out, what kind of reactions can DNA catalyze? And how do we find DNA catalysts that can catalyze these reactions?" Silverman said.
To find the DNA catalysts that can perform a phosphatase reaction, the researchers used a process called in vitro selection. This method searches through vast numbers of DNA sequences to identify the few that could perform a specific activity. The researchers then synthesize those DNA strands and use them for various applications.
"We believe that DNA catalysts can be a very useful tool in the future to study these kinds of protein modifications," said graduate student and co-author Jagadeeswaran Chandrasekar. "To have DNA that you can synthesize on a machine and do catalytic activity on large molecules like proteins is very exciting. We can make fresh new DNA sequences, without requiring a natural starting point, and perform important reactions."
The researchers tested their DNA catalysts' activity in the presence of other large, non-specific proteins, to find out if they would function in an environment resembling the cell. The DNA catalysts were not bothered by the extra company, giving the researchers hope that one day their DNA catalysts could be used for practical applications in vivo.
Next, the researchers will continue to refine the in vitro selection process and hope to identify more DNA catalysts, designing and building molecules to perform specific functions.
"This kind of finding is enabling because it shows that DNA catalysis of biologically interesting processes is possible," Silverman said, "and with this outcome we can have confidence that the broader objectives of this kind of research are likely to be achievable."
|Contact: Liz Ahlberg|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign