Principles and Applications of Nucleic Acid Strand Displacement Reactions

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Dynamic DNA nanotechnology, a subfield of DNA nanotechnology, is concerned with the study and application of nucleic acid strand-displacement reactions. Strand-displacement reactions generally proceed by three-way or four-way branch migration and initially were investigated for their relevance to genetic recombination. Through the use of toeholds, which are single-stranded segments of DNA to which an invader strand can bind to initiate branch migration, the rate with which strand displacement reactions proceed can be varied by more than 6 orders of magnitude. In addition, the use of toeholds enables the construction of enzyme-free DNA reaction networks exhibiting complex dynamical behavior. A demonstration of this was provided in the year 2000, in which strand displacement reactions were employed to drive a DNA-based nanomachine (Yurke, B.; et al. Nature 2000, 406, 605−608). Since then, toeholdmediated strand displacement reactions have been used with ever increasing sophistication and the field of dynamic DNA nanotechnology has grown exponentially. Besides molecular machines, the field has produced enzyme-free catalytic systems, all DNA chemical oscillators and the most complex molecular computers yet devised. Enzyme-free catalytic systems can function as chemical amplifiers and as such have received considerable attention for sensing and detection applications in chemistry and medical diagnostics. Strand-displacement reactions have been combined with other enzymatically driven processes and have also been employed within living cells (Groves, B.; et al. Nat. Nanotechnol. 2015, 11, 287−294). Strand-displacement principles have also been applied in synthetic biology to enable artificial gene regulation and computation in bacteria. Given the enormous progress of dynamic DNA nanotechnology over the past years, the field now seems poised for practical application.