Hierarchical assemblies of biomolecular subunits can carry out versatile tasks at the cellular level with remarkable spatial and temporal precision1,2. As an example, the collective motion and mutual cooperation between complex protein machines mediate essential functions for life, such as replication3, synthesis4, degradation5, repair6 and transport7. Nucleic acid molecules are far less dynamic than proteins and need to bind to specific proteins to form hierarchical structures. The simplest example of these nucleic acid-based structures is provided by a rod-shaped tobacco mosaic virus, which consists of genetic material surrounded by coat proteins8. Inspired by the complexity and hierarchical assembly of viruses, a great deal of effort has been devoted to design similarly constructed artificial viruses9,10. However, such a wrapping approach makes nucleic acid dynamics insensitive to environmental changes. This limitation generally restricts, for example, the amplification of the conformational dynamics between the right-handed B form to the left-handed Z form of double-stranded deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)11,12. Here we report a virus-like hierarchical assembly in which the native DNA and a synthetic coat undergo repeated collective helicity switching triggered by pH change under physiological conditions. We also show that this collective helicity inversion occurs during translocation of the DNA-coat assembly into intracellular compartments. Translating DNA conformational dynamics into a higher level of hierarchical dynamics may provide an approach to create DNA-based nanomachines.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
- Biomedical Engineering
- Materials Science(all)
- Condensed Matter Physics
- Electrical and Electronic Engineering