Nucleic acids such as DNA and RNA exhibit a wide range of biochemical functions including transfer of genetic information, regulation of gene expression, molecular recognition, and chemical catalysis. The objective of Nucleic Acid Chemistry and Engineering Unit is to harness the intrinsic functional versatility of natural and artificial nucleic acids to engineer nucleic acids with sophisticated functions.

Actual projects that postdocs and students work on largely depend on individual background and interests within the context of nucleic acid chemistry and engineering. For example, we currently have a variety of projects such as: applications of high-throughput sequencing to nucleic acid chemistry and engineering, applications of riboswitches in mammalian and bacterial cells, synthesis and applications of nonnatural nucleic acids, and in vitro evolution of ribozymes.

Method Development

New or improved methodologies and techniques play a key role in our ability to design nucleic acids with sophisticated functions. We have developed and will continue to develop new methods that significantly accelerate our ability to design and analyze functional nucleic acids. These methods are used, along with other available methods, for various applications. 

Biological Applications

Engineered nucleic acids, RNA in particular, can potentially be used within living cells to interact with the intracellular molecules and control living cells. We have designed various RNA-based gene switches (riboswitches) that can regulate gene expression in bacteria and in mammalian cells in response to chemical signals. We are also interested in exploiting these synthetic RNA devices to other applications such as metabolic engineering.

Chemical Systems

We are also interested in designing simple and complex chemical systems composed of multiple nucleic acid components. We recently designed an RNA biosensor circuit that amplifies a chemical signal and produces an optical signal (fluorescence). These synthetic chemical systems composed of nucleic acids not only challenge the limits of nucleic acid chemistry, but also serve as models for future biological applications.