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Error-Correcting Nanomaterials
Jamais Cascio, 19 Oct 05

dnareplication.jpgGiven all the talk about mutations (particularly regarding a certain flu virus...), it's not altogether irrational to think that DNA replication is error-prone. It's not. One in 100,000 base pairs are mismatched during replication, but proofreading and error-correcting mechanisms in the DNA replication process reduce that error rate to one in one billion base pairs. Now, researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have figured out how to add DNA-based proofreading and error-correction to the production of nanoscale materials.

“Instead of trying to avoid defects or work around them, it makes more sense to accept defects as part of the process and then correct them during and after the assembly process,” said Yi Lu, a chemistry professor at Illinois and a researcher at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. “This procedure is analogous to how nature deals with defects, and can be applied to the assembly of nanomaterials using biomolecules or biomimetic compounds.”
In protein synthesis, nature ensures accuracy by utilizing a proofreading unit that detects and corrects errors in translation, often through hydrolysis of incorrect amino acid building blocks. In a similar fashion, Lu and graduate students Juewen Liu and Daryl Wernette utilized catalytic DNA to locate and remove errors in a DNA-templated gold nanoparticle assembly process.

This kind of biomimicry is a bit less attention-getting than biomimetic architecture or industrial design, but may in the long run be among the most important developments in the field.

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