Nucleic Acids

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Living organisms are self-assembling systems that achieve an enormous variety of functions through organization of components from sub-nanometer to meter scale. Understanding the functions of these systems must start with a study of the molecular components, their structures and interactions. By understanding these structures and their functions we gain the ability to design and construct materials and devices to detect and monitor biological processes and ultimately build complex systems that transcend biology.

Among the biological materials that have attracted the most interest are the nucleic acids - ribonucleic acid (RNA) and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). A central dogma of biology places DNA at the core of life, as the blueprint for the construction of all known life forms. However, in the 50 years since the discovery of the DNA double helix, scientists have only just begun to understand and appreciate the complexity of nucleic acid biology. The opportunities for engineers and material scientists to participate in future discoveries are significant. Research and development of devices for high-throughput detection and determination of nucleic acid sequences is currently one of the most active and important areas linking material science and biology.

This talk will provide an introduction to the nucleic acids, focusing on their genesis, key structural features, interactions, and strategies for detection technologies that require material science solutions. The ability to re-engineer nucleic acids into new self-assembling materials will also be discussed.


Don Bergstrom Prof. Bergstrom is Walther Professor of Medicinal Chemistry in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Purdue University. Dr. Bergstrom received his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1970. His thesis work with Professor Henry Rapoport focused on the total synthesis of the chlorobium chlorophylls. Following postdoctoral research with Nelson Leonard at the University of Illinois and with William Agosta at the Rockefeller University he held faculty appointments at the University of California, Davis and the University of North Dakota before joining the faculty at Purdue. Since the mid-1970s Professor Bergstrom's research has been concentrated in the area of nucleic acid chemistry. His research has been supported by National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of General Medicine for research on cancer and from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for the study of new therapies for viral diseases. His research has also been funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, the American Chemical Society, and Research Corporation. His current research is focused on the development of modified nucleic acids for assembly of nanoscale diagnostic and therapeutic devices. He is the founding editor of Current Protocol Protocols in Nucleic Acid Chemistry.

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  • (2007), "Nucleic Acids,"

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