Selected recent results from this laboratory

Uncovering the forces between nucleosomes using DNA origami

J. Funke, P. Ketterer, C. Lieleg, S. Schunter, P. Korber and H. Dietz.

Science Advances 2016

Revealing the energy landscape for nucleosome association may contribute to the understanding of higher-order chromatin structures and their impact on genome regulation. We accomplish this in a direct measurement by integrating two nucleosomes into a DNA origami–based force spectrometer, which enabled subnanometer-resolution measurements of nucleosome-nucleosome distance frequencies via single-particle electron microscopy imaging. From the data, we derived the Boltzmann-weighted distance-dependent energy landscape for nucleosome pair interactions. We find a shallow but long-range (~6 nm) attractive nucleosome pair potential with a minimum of −1.6 kcal/mol close to direct contact distances. The relative nucleosome orientation had little influence, but histone H4 acetylation or removal of histone tails drastically decreased the interaction strength. Because of the weak and shallow pair potential, higher-order nucleosome assemblies will be compliant and experience dynamic shape fluctuations in the absence of additional cofactors. Our results contribute to a more accurate description of chromatin and our force spectrometer provides a powerful tool for the direct and high-resolution study of molecular interactions using imaging techniques.


Please see also our related study on nucleosome unwrapping.

Single molecule dissection of stacking forces in DNA

F. Kilchherr, C. Wachauf, B. Pelz, M. Rief, M. Zacharias, and H. Dietz.

Science 2016 

We directly measured at the single-molecule level the forces and lifetimes of DNA base-pair stacking interactions for all stack sequence combinations. Our experimental approach combined dual-beam optical tweezers with DNA origami components to allow positioning of blunt-end DNA helices so that the weak stacking force could be isolated. Base-pair stack arrays that lacked a covalent backbone connection spontaneously dissociated at average rates ranging from 0.02 to 500 per second, depending on the sequence combination and stack array size. Forces in the range from 2 to 8 piconewtons that act along the helical direction only mildly accelerated the stochastic unstacking process. The free-energy increments per stack that we estimate from the measured forward and backward kinetic rates ranged from –0.8 to –3.4 kilocalories per mole, depending on the sequence combination. Our data contributes to understanding the mechanics of DNA processing in biology, and it is helpful for designing the kinetics of DNA-based nanoscale devices according to user specifications.

Nanoscale rotary apparatus formed from tight-fitting 3D DNA components

P. Ketterer, E. Willner, and H.Dietz, Science Advances 2016


We report a nanoscale rotary mechanism that reproduces some of the dynamic properties of biological rotary motors in the absence of an energy source, such as random walks on a circle with dwells at docking sites. Our mechanism is built modularly from tight-fitting components that were self-assembled using multilayer DNA origami. The apparatus has greater structural complexity than previous mechanically interlocked objects and features a well-defined angular degree of freedom without restricting the range of rotation. We studied the dynamics of our mechanism using single-particle experiments analogous to those performed previously with actin-labeled adenosine triphosphate synthases. In our mechanism, rotor mobility, the number of docking sites, and the dwell times at these sites may be controlled through rational design. Our prototype thus realizes a working platform toward creating synthetic nanoscale rotary motors. Our methods will support creating other complex nanoscale mechanisms based on tightly fitting, sterically constrained, but mobile, DNA components.

Placing molecules with Bohr radius resolution using DNA origami

J. Funke and H. Dietz, Nature Nanotechnology, 2015


Molecular self-assembly with DNA relies on building blocks that are commensurate to those of biological macromolecular machines and should therefore be capable of delivering the atomic-scale placement accuracy known today only from natural and designed proteins. So far, few objects afford a design accuracy better than 5 nm, and the subnanometre scale has been reached only within the unit cells of designed DNA crystals. Here, we report a molecular positioning device made from a hinged DNA origami object in which the angle between the two structural units can be controlled with adjuster helices. We rationally adjusted the average distance between fluorescent molecules and reactive groups from 1.5 to 9 nm in 123 discrete displacement steps. The smallest displacement step possible was 0.04 nm, which is slightly less than the Bohr radius. The fluctuation amplitudes in the distance coordinate were also small (±0.5 nm), and within a factor of two to three of the amplitudes found in protein structures.

Dynamic DNA devices and assemblies formed by shape-complementary, non-basepairing 3D components

Thomas Gerling, Klaus F. Wagenbauer, Andrea M. Neuner, Hendrik Dietz, Science 2015


Discrete three-dimensional (3D) DNA components can specifically self-assemble in solution on the basis of shape-complementarity and without base pairing. Using this principle, we produced homo- and heteromultimeric objects, including micrometer-scale one- and two-stranded filaments and lattices, as well as reconfigurable devices, including an actuator, a switchable gear, an unfoldable nanobook, and a nanorobot. These multidomain assemblies were stabilized via short-ranged nucleobase stacking bonds that compete against electrostatic repulsion between the components’ interfaces. The balance between attractive and repulsive interactions, and thus the conformation of the assemblies, may be finely controlled by global parameters such as cation concentration or temperature and by an allosteric mechanism based on strand-displacement reactions.

Cryo-EM structure of a 3D DNA-origami object

X. Bai, T. Martin, S. Scheres, and H. Dietz, PNAS 2012


A key goal for nanotechnology is to design synthetic objects that may ultimately achieve functionalities known today only from natural macromolecular complexes. Molecular self-assembly with DNA has shown potential for creating user-defined 3D scaffolds, but the level of attainable positional accuracy has been unclear. Here we report the cryo-EM structure and a full pseudoatomic model of a discrete DNA object that is almost twice the size of a prokaryotic ribosome. The structure provides a variety of stable, previously undescribed DNA topologies for future use in nano- technology and experimental evidence that discrete 3D DNA scaf- folds allow the positioning of user-defined structural motifs with an accuracy that is similar to that observed in natural macromole- cules. Thereby, our results indicate an attractive route to fabricate nanoscale devices that achieve complex functionalities by DNA- templated design steered by structural feedback.

Rapid folding of DNA into nanoscale shapes at constant temperature

Jean-Philippe J. Sobczak, Thomas G. Martin, Thomas Gerling, Hendrik Dietz, Science 2012


We demonstrate that, at constant temperature, hundreds of DNA strands can cooperatively fold a long template DNA strand within minutes into complex nanoscale objects. Folding occurred out of equilibrium along nucleation-driven pathways at temperatures that could be influenced by the choice of sequences, strand lengths, and chain topology. Unfolding occurred in apparent equilibrium at higher temperatures than those for folding. Folding at optimized constant temperatures enabled the rapid production of three-dimensional DNA objects with yields that approached 100%. The results point to similarities with protein folding in spite of chemical and structural differences. The possibility for rapid and high-yield assembly will enable DNA nanotechnology for practical applications.

Synthetic lipid membrane channels formed by designed DNA nanostructures

M. Langecker, V. Arnaut, T. Martin, J. List, S. Renner, M. Mayer, H. Dietz, and F. Simmel, Science 2012


We created nanometer-scale transmembrane channels in lipid bilayers by means of self-assembled DNA-based nanostructures. Scaffolded DNA origami was used to create a stem that penetrated and spanned a lipid membrane, as well as a barrel-shaped cap that adhered to the membrane, in part via 26 cholesterol moieties. In single-channel electrophysiological measurements, we found similarities to the response of natural ion channels, such as conductances on the order of 1 nanosiemens and channel gating. More pronounced gating was seen for mutations in which a single DNA strand of the stem protruded into the channel. Single-molecule translocation experiments show that the synthetic channels can be used to discriminate single DNA molecules. The work was done in collaboration with the Simmel lab at TUM.

DNA origami gatekeepers for solid-state nanopores

R. Wei, T. Martin, U. Rant, and H. Dietz, Angewandte Chemie 2012


We developed DNA origami nanoplates that function with solid-state nanopores, which can be fabricated through standard electron beam lithography. The DNA origami nanoplates are permeable to small ions, but the passage of macromolecules can be controlled by including custom apertures. The chemical addressability of the DNA nanoplates enables bait–prey single-molecule sensing experiments, as highlighted in our study by the sequence-specific detection of DNA snippets and genomic phage DNA. Applications in biomolecular interaction screens and for detecting DNA sequences by hybridization are readily conceivable. High-resolution sensing applications, such as electrical DNA sequencing will require reducing both the leakage current and current fluctuations.