Hierarchical assemblies of biomolecular subunits can carry out versatile tasks at the cellular level with remarkable spatial and temporal precision 1,2 . As an example, the collective motion and mutual cooperation between complex protein machines mediate essential functions for life, such as replication 3 , synthesis 4 , degradation 5 , repair 6 and transport 7 . 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 proteins 8 . Inspired by the complexity and hierarchical assembly of viruses, a great deal of effort has been devoted to design similarly constructed artificial viruses 9,10 . 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