DNAzyme and Aptamer-Based Sensing and Imaging Agents for Metabolomics

We are interested in using in vitro selection to obtain DNAzymes (DNA molecules with catalytic activity) and aptamers (DNA that can bind targets selectively) that are highly specific for different metal ions and organic metabolites.

In the process, we strive to understand structural features of nucleic acid oligamers that are responsible for such high selectivity and enzyme-like reaction mechanisms by using a suite of spectroscopic methods (e.g. UV-vis, EPR, XAS) and x-ray crystallography to improve the rational design of functional DNA.

We are developing highly sensitive and selective sensors for metal ions and other small molecular targets such as environmental contaminants, unsafe adulterants in foods, biomarkers for early disease detection, and therapeutic drug monitoring in point-of-care diagnostics. Our other major focus is to develop imaging agents to understand distributions and the functional mechanisms of metal ions and small molecules in living cells and in vivo. We are working to fill a major gap in biomedical sciences where understanding of metabolomics lags significantly behind that of genomics and proteomics.

For general reviews in this area, please see the following articles in Curr. Opin. Chem. Engin., DNA Nanotechnology, Chemical Reviews, and Biotech. Advances.


General in vitro selection procedure (left), selected DNAzymes for metal binding (right)
Catalytic Beacon Sensors


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