Synthetic bionanotechnology: Synthetic biology finds a toehold in nanotechnology

Alexander A. Green

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Enabled by its central role in the molecular networks that govern cell function, RNA has been widely used for constructing components used in biological circuits for synthetic biology. Nucleic acid nanotechnology, which exploits predictable nucleic acid interactions to implement programmable molecular systems, has seen remarkable advances in in vitro nanoscale self-assembly and molecular computation, enabling the production of complex nanostructures and DNA-based neural networks. Living cells genetically engineered to execute nucleic acid nanotechnology programs thus have outstanding potential to significantly extend the current limits of synthetic biology. This perspective discusses the recent developments and future challenges in the field of synthetic bionanotechnology. Thus far, researchers in this emerging area have implemented dozens of programmable RNA nanodevices that provide precise control over gene expression at the transcriptional and translational levels and through CRISPR/Cas effectors. Moreover, they have employed synthetic self-assembling RNA networks in engineered bacteria to carry out computations featuring up to a dozen inputs and to substantially enhance the rate of chemical synthesis. Continued advancement of the field will benefit from improved in vivo strategies for streamlining nucleic acid network synthesis and new approaches for enhancing network function. As the field matures and the complexity gap between in vitro and in vivo systems narrows, synthetic bionanotechnology promises to have diverse potential applications ranging from intracellular circuits that detect and treat disease to synthetic enzymatic pathways that efficiently produce novel drug molecules.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)507-516
Number of pages10
JournalEmerging topics in life sciences
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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