Designing Aptamers to Control Chemical Reactions


Aptamers are short single stranded molecules made up of nucleic acids (RNA and DNA) or peptides that bind, like antibodies, to specific target molecules. However, unlike antibodies they can be completely engineered and synthesized in a test tube for a variety of functions. Marit Nilsen-Hamilton’s research group at the Ames Laboratory has led to a new approach for controlling metabolic pathways using aptamers. They discovered that it is possible to develop aptamers, using computational modeling of the aptamer structure, that completely protect target molecules from chemical modification. These results suggest that aptamers might be engineered for use inside cells to alter the flow of chemicals through metabolic pathways with the potential to alter plants or microbes for improved production of biofuels.


T. Wang, et al., “Computational and Experimental Analyses Converge to Reveal a Coherent Yet Malleable Aptamer Structure That Controls Chemical Reactivity,” Journal of American Chemical Society (2009) 131, 14747-14755.