skip to main content

Title: The design space of strand displacement cascades with toehold-size clamps
DNA strand displacement cascades have proven to be a uniquely flexible and programmable primitive for constructing molecular logic circuits, smart structures and devices, and for systems with complex autonomously generated dynamics. Limiting their utility, however, strand displacement systems are susceptible to the spurious release of output even in the absence of the proper combination of inputs—so-called leak. A common mechanism for reducing leak involves clamping the ends of helices to prevent fraying, and thereby kinetically blocking the initiation of undesired displacement. Since a clamp must act as the incumbent toehold for toehold exchange, clamps cannot be stronger than a toehold. In this paper we systematize the properties of the simplest of strand displacement cascades (a translator) with toehold-size clamps. Surprisingly, depending on a few basic parameters, we find a rich and diverse landscape for desired and undesired properties and trade-offs between them. Initial experiments demonstrate a significant reduction of leak.
; ; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
DNA Computing and Molecular Programming 23
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Artificially designed molecular systems with programmable behaviors have become a valuable tool in chemistry, biology, material science, and medicine. Although information processing in biological regulatory pathways is remarkably robust to error, it remains a challenge to design molecular systems that are similarly robust. With functionality determined entirely by secondary structure of DNA, strand displacement has emerged as a uniquely versatile building block for cell-free biochemical networks. Here, we experimentally investigate a design principle to reduce undesired triggering in the absence of input (leak), a side reaction that critically reduces sensitivity and disrupts the behavior of strand displacement cascades. Inspired by error correction methods exploiting redundancy in electrical engineering, we ensure a higher-energy penalty to leak via logical redundancy. Our design strategy is, in principle, capable of reducing leak to arbitrarily low levels, and we experimentally test two levels of leak reduction for a core “translator” component that converts a signal of one sequence into that of another. We show that the leak was not measurable in the high-redundancy scheme, even for concentrations that are up to 100 times larger than typical. Beyond a single translator, we constructed a fast and low-leak translator cascade of nine strand displacement steps and amore »logic OR gate circuit consisting of 10 translators, showing that our design principle can be used to effectively reduce leak in more complex chemical systems.« less
  2. Abstract Nucleic acid interactions under crowded environments are of great importance for biological processes and nanotechnology. However, the kinetics and thermodynamics of nucleic acid interactions in a crowded environment remain poorly understood. We use a coarse-grained model of DNA to study the kinetics and thermodynamics of DNA duplex and hairpin formation in crowded environments. We find that crowders can increase the melting temperature of both an 8-mer DNA duplex and a hairpin with a stem of 6-nt depending on the excluded volume fraction of crowders in solution and the crowder size. The crowding induced stability originates from the entropic effect caused by the crowding particles in the system. Additionally, we study the hybridization kinetics of DNA duplex formation and the formation of hairpin stems, finding that the reaction rate kon is increased by the crowding effect, while koff is changed only moderately. The increase in kon mostly comes from increasing the probability of reaching a transition state with one base pair formed. A DNA strand displacement reaction in a crowded environment is also studied with the model and we find that rate of toehold association is increased, with possible applications to speeding up strand displacement cascades in nucleic acid nanotechnology.
  3. In contrast to electronic computation, chemical computation is noisy and susceptible to a variety of sources of error, which has prevented the construction of robust complex systems. To be effective, chemical algorithms must be designed with an appropriate error model in mind. Here we consider the model of chemical reaction networks that preserve molecular count (population protocols), and ask whether computation can be made robust to a natural model of unintended “leak” reactions. Our definition of leak is motivated by both the particular spurious behavior seen when implementing chemical reaction networks with DNA strand displacement cascades, as well as the unavoidable side reactions in any implementation due to the basic laws of chemistry. We develop a new “Robust Detection” algorithm for the problem of fast (logarithmic time) single molecule detection, and prove that it is robust to this general model of leaks. Besides potential applications in single molecule detection, the error-correction ideas developed here might enable a new class of robust-by-design chemical algorithms. Our analysis is based on a non-standard hybrid argument, combining ideas from discrete analysis of population protocols with classic Markov chain techniques.
  4. The development of the DNA origami technique has directly inspired the idea of using three-dimensional DNA cages for the encapsulation and targeted delivery of drug or cargo molecules. The cages would be filled with molecules that would be released at a site of interest upon cage opening triggered by an external stimulus. Though different cage variants have been developed, efficient loading of DNA cages with freely-diffusing cargo molecules that are not attached to the DNA nanostructure and their efficient retention within the cages has not been presented. Here we address these challenges using DNA origami nanotubes formed by a double-layer of DNA helices that can be sealed with tight DNA lids at their ends. In a first step we attach DNA-conjugated cargo proteins to complementary target strands inside the DNA tubes. After tube sealing, the cargo molecules are released inside the cavity using toehold-mediated strand displacement by externally added invader strands. We show that DNA invaders are rapidly entering the cages through their DNA walls. Retention of ∼70 kDa protein cargo molecules inside the cages was, however, poor. Guided by coarse-grained simulations of the DNA cage dynamics, a tighter sealing of the DNA tubes was developed which greatly reduced themore »undesired escape of cargo proteins. These improved DNA nanocages allow for efficient encapsulation of medium-sized cargo molecules while remaining accessible to small molecules that can be used to trigger reactions, including a controlled release of the cargo via nanocage opening.« less
  5. Abstract

    The ability to create stimuli-responsive DNA nanostructures has played a prominent role in dynamic DNA nanotechnology. Primary among these is the process of toehold-based strand displacement, where a nucleic acid molecule can act as a trigger to cause conformational changes in custom-designed DNA nanostructures. Here, we add another layer of control to strand displacement reactions through a 'toehold clipping' process. By designing DNA complexes with a photocleavable linker-containing toehold or an RNA toehold, we show that we can use light (UV) or enzyme (ribonuclease) to eliminate the toehold, thus preventing strand displacement reactions. We use molecular dynamics simulations to analyze the structural effects of incorporating a photocleavable linker in DNA complexes. Beyond simple DNA duplexes, we also demonstrate the toehold clipping process in a model DNA nanostructure, by designing a toehold containing double-bundle DNA tetrahedron that disassembles when an invading strand is added, but stays intact after the toehold clipping process even in the presence of the invading strand. This work is an example of combining multiple physical or molecular stimuli to provide additional remote control over DNA nanostructure reconfiguration, advances that hold potential use in biosensing, drug delivery or molecular computation.