Subscribe to Newsletter
Discovery & Development Drug Delivery, Drug Discovery

Artificial Future

Artificial life can be understood as the synthesis and simulation of living systems. Sounds far fetched? A recent review, published in Cell Reports Physical Science, suggests that artificial life could be engineered into nanorobots tasked with delivering medication or diagnostic elements into a patient's body – Trojan horse style. The emerging field of “hybrid peptide-DNA nanostructures” focuses on the structural programmability of DNA and diverse chemical functions of peptides to produce advanced macromolecular architectures.

Here, Chenguang Lou, Associate Professor from the Department of Physics, Chemistry, and Pharmacy at the University of Southern Denmark, delves into functional nanostructures, artificial life, and what it all means for medicine making.

What is the potential of hybrid peptide-DNA nanostructures?

Both DNA and peptide modules can be tailored in a predefined manner. In other words, the combination of DNA and peptides can create a new chemical dimension for increasingly advanced nanotechnological applications, including, but not limited to, artificial viral vaccines, hybrid macromolecular sensors and therapeutic nanorobots.

DNA and peptides are biomaterials intrinsic to the evolution of almost all life on Earth. If we can precisely engineer both elements at a sub-nanometer level, it is possible that we can also create real artificial life forms in the future. 

A suitable starting point for this research could be viruses, which are exclusively composed of DNA and peptides. Artificial cells could also become possible, but other biomolecules such lipids and saccharides must be carefully integrated, and all cellular organisms must be engineered in a rigorous manner to achieve this. But there is still a long way to go before we’re at that stage.

But how close are we to artificial life?

Artificial life will be possible one day with the peptide-DNA hybrid design, but it is still on the horizon. I think it is more accurate to use nanorobots or molecular machines to describe the functional hybrid peptide-DNA nanostructures at the current stage. By combining structural programmability and sufficient chemical functions into a single nanostructure, more advanced macromolecular instruments can be composed. It would be impossible with DNAs or peptides/proteins alone.

The field is still young –10 years, in fact – but one major challenge we face relates to predicting the morphology of assembled nanostructures. 

What is needed to push this area of research further?

We hope to garner interest from scientists working in similar research fields. Of course, it’ll come as no surprise when I say that the more scientists working together on a project will yield richer results. Expanding the field and increasing interdisciplinary relations is key to the growth of hybrid peptide-DNA nanostructures. This is not a job for bioorganic chemists alone.

What are your next steps – and how do you see the technology being applied in the world of medicine making?

Our next step is to make increasingly sophisticated hybrid nanoscale architectures that will improve our understanding of how to control DNA and peptides in a cooperative manner. And with further investigation, we can advance the technology to make viral vaccines where DNA is used to engineer the related antigens (composed of peptides) on the surface. If this works, various viral vaccines can be composed using the bottom-up method to help society combat life-threatening viral infections. Next, we may move further to create artificial life forms, probably starting from live viruses.

Receive content, products, events as well as relevant industry updates from The Medicine Maker and its sponsors.
Stay up to date with our other newsletters and sponsors information, tailored specifically to the fields you are interested in

When you click “Subscribe” we will email you a link, which you must click to verify the email address above and activate your subscription. If you do not receive this email, please contact us at [email protected].
If you wish to unsubscribe, you can update your preferences at any point.

About the Author
Jamie Irvine

Associate Editor, The Medicine Maker

Register to The Medicine Maker

Register to access our FREE online portfolio, request the magazine in print and manage your preferences.

You will benefit from:
  • Unlimited access to ALL articles
  • News, interviews & opinions from leading industry experts
  • Receive print (and PDF) copies of The Medicine Maker magazine