A nanomechanical device based on the B-Z transition of DNA

Nature. 1999 Jan 14;397(6715):144-6. doi: 10.1038/16437.


The assembly of synthetic, controllable molecular mechanical systems is one of the goals of nanotechnology. Protein-based molecular machines, often driven by an energy source such as ATP, are abundant in biology. It has been shown previously that branched motifs of DNA can provide components for the assembly of nanoscale objects, links and arrays. Here we show that such structures can also provide the basis for dynamic assemblies: switchable molecular machines. We have constructed a supramolecular device consisting of two rigid DNA 'double-crossover' (DX) molecules connected by 4.5 double-helical turns. One domain of each DX molecule is attached to the connecting helix. To effect switchable motion in this assembly, we use the transition between the B and Z forms of DNA. In conditions that favour B-DNA, the two unconnected domains of the DX molecules lie on the same side of the central helix. In Z-DNA-promoting conditions, however, these domains switch to opposite sides of the helix. This relative repositioning is detected by means of fluorescence resonance energy transfer spectroscopy, which measures the relative proximity of two dye molecules attached to the free ends of the DX molecules. The switching event induces atomic displacements of 20-60 A.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena*
  • DNA / chemistry*
  • Energy Transfer
  • Models, Molecular
  • Nucleic Acid Conformation
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence


  • DNA