Suddath Award Winner Presentation

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"DNA Mechanotechnology for Sensing and Generating Piconewton-scale Forces"

Aaron Blanchard, Doctoral Candidate
Khalid Salaita, Ph.D., Advisor
Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering
Georgia Tech and Emory University

Mechanical forces drive and regulate countless biological processes including muscle contraction, embryogenesis, immunity, and coagulation. Such processes are mediated by networks of biomolecular motors, sensors, and structures that generate, sense, and transmit piconewton-scale forces. The ability to engineer similar nanoscale mechanical devices from scratch could reveal the properties of biological mechanical systems and pace the way for nanorobotics and functional nanomachines of the future. DNA nanotechnology has been central in efforts to such engineering efforts. In recent decades, dozens of devices – including rigid DNA beams that resemble cytoskeletal fibers, DNA-based mechanosensors, and DNA motors that mimic motor proteins such as kinesin – have been developed for use in diverse fields including biophysics research, molecular sensing, and the development of active nanomaterials. We recently introduced the term DNA mechanotechnology to collectively describe this emerging field of technological development (Blanchard & Salaita, Science, 2019). In my talk, I will highlight some of the most exciting examples of DNA mechanotechnology and emerging applications of these devices. I will then discuss in greater detail the DNA mechanotechnology that I have helped to develop during my PhD studies. Specifically, I will discuss DNA hairpin tension probes that transduce piconewton-scale mechanical tension into fluorescence (Brockman & Blanchard et al., Nature Methods, 2018), a force-transmitting DNA origami body that links multiple force sensors and ligands in parallel (Dutta, Zhang, & Blanchard et al., Nano Letters, 2018), and the world’s strongest synthetic DNA-based motor reported to date (Blanchard et al., Nano Letters, 2019).

The F. L. (Bud) Suddath Memorial Award has been established by the family, friends and colleagues of Bud Suddath to stimulate graduate research in the fields of biology, biochemistry and biomedical engineering. The award is given annually to a doctoral student of Georgia Tech who has at least one year remaining in his or her doctoral program and who has demonstrated significant research achievement in the field of biology, biochemistry or biomedical engineering. The awardee is provided an award of up to $1,000 in value which may be used to facilitate the completion of his or her scholarly development. The recipient will also be presented with an award as well as having his or her name engraved on the School's commemorative plaque. The recipient of this award will speak at a special event hosted by the Petit Institute the following year to present his or her research and talk about how the award impacted their research.


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