Our BIOMOD project has showed that RNA can be used as a fully-functional alternative to DNA in the production of self-assembled nanostructures. In addition, using RNA enables a vast number of functionalities, the most prominently of which includes:
- Invocation of RNA interference, as successfully showed in the present project.
- Enzymatic activity, not only for making and breaking bonds in the phosphate backbone of oligonucleotides, but also for a wide range of other chemistries.
In addition to the extended set of available functionalities, RNA also provides a wider range of structural motifs, enabling more complex structures. We believe the above-mentioned traits will enable a whole new generation of nano-therapeutics, designed as fully self-sustained RNA structures. RNA structures that could include all elements required for a drug-delivery vehicle: aptamers recognizing target elements on cell surfaces, membrane-penetrating elements and therapeutics with an optional regulator for adjusting the therapeutic effect.
While RNA initially requires a slightly higher workload during production, the use of RNA also allows us to address some of the biggest issues related to traditional DNA-based nanostructures. In particular, RNA allows for cheap enzymatic production of the oligonucleotides which are usually a very costly part of the material. In addition, production of an RNA scaffold of arbitrary length is readily done, whereas production of a DNA scaffold of arbitrary length requires application of cloning and other tedious molecular biology techniques.
Rapid degradation of unmodified RNA in vivo makes for the main Achilles’ heel of RNA nanostructures. For this reason, we imagine that modified RNA e.g. with alternative nucleic acids will eventually replace pure RNA as the main material.