McGill University researchers have chemically imprinted polymer particles with DNA strands – a technique that could lead to new materials for applications ranging from biomedicine to the promising field of « soft robotics. »

In a study published in Nature Chemistry, the researchers describe a method to create asymmetrical that bind together in a spatially defined manner, the way that atoms come together to make molecules.

Although polymers are used in everything from clothing and food packaging to 3D printing and electronics, most self-assembled polymer structures have been limited to symmetrical forms such as spherical or cylindrical shapes. Recently, however, scientists have focused on creating non-symmetrical polymer structures—for example ‘Janus’ particles with two different ‘faces’—and they are starting to discover exciting new applications for these materials. One example: robotics made with soft, flexible structures that can change shape in response to external stimuli.

The method described in the Nature Chemistry paper « introduces a programmable level of organization that is currently difficult to attain in polymer chemistry, » says McGill Chemistry professor Hanadi Sleiman, senior author of the study. « Chemically copying the information contained in DNA nanostructures offers a powerful solution to the problem of size, shape and directional control for polymeric materials. »

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