DNA enzyme shuffles cell membranes a thousand times faster than its natural counterpart
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IMAGE: A synthetic DNA enzyme inserts into a cell membrane, causing lipids to shuffle between the inner and outer membrane layers. view more 

Credit: Image courtesy of Christopher Maffeo

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A new synthetic enzyme, crafted from DNA rather than protein, flips lipid molecules within the cell membrane, triggering a signal pathway that could be harnessed to induce cell death in cancer cells.

Researchers at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Cambridge say their lipid-scrambling DNA enzyme is the first in its class to outperform naturally occurring enzymes – and does so by three orders of magnitude. They published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

“Cell membranes are lined with a different set of molecules on the inside and outside, and cells devote a lot of resources to maintaining this,” said study leader Aleksei Aksimentiev, a professor of physics at Illinois. “But at some points in a cell’s life, the asymmetry has to be dismantled. Then the markers that were inside become outside, which sends signals for certain processes, such as cell death. There are enzymes in nature that do that called scramblases. However, in some diseases where scramblases are deficient, this doesn’t happen

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