Imagine you want to build an intricate work of architecture, like a castle.
Now imagine that, once all its individual components are brought together, the castle builds itself automatically. Finally, imagine this castle is so small that it’s measured on the same scale as DNA, viruses and small molecules.
You’ve just entered the nanoscale world where Eric Henderson lives. And if this sounds like magic to you, maybe you’re not far off the mark.
“It’s the magic of how DNA works,” said Henderson, a professor of genetics, development and cell biology at Iowa State University.
Henderson, along with his former graduate student Divita Mathur, studies how to build nanomachines that may have real-world medical applications someday soon. He and Mathur recently published an article in the peer-reviewed Scientific Reports describing his laboratory’s successful effort to design a nanomachine capable of detecting a mockup of the Ebola virus.
He said such a machine would prove valuable in the developing world, where access to diagnostic medical equipment can be rare. He said his nanotechnology could be fabricated cheaply and deployed easily. Used in conjunction with a smartphone app, nearly anyone could use the technology to detect Ebola or any number of other diseases and pathogens without the need for traditional medical facilities.
The trick lies in understanding the rules that govern how DNA works, Henderson said.
“It’s possible to exploit that rule set in a way that creates advantages for medicine and biotechnology,” he said.