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LMU Nanocandy team takes runner-up spot

München, 11/16/2015

At the annual biomolecular modeling competition BIOMOD held at Harvard University, a team from LMU overcame strong international opposition to take second place overall.

LMU‘s Nanocandy team.

LMU‘s Nanocandy team was highly successful in this year’s BIOMOD competition held at Harvard University. Team members Luzia Kilwing, Jonathan Wagner, Chaochen Lu and Maximilian Schiff won the second prize overall, as well as picking up the prize for the best presentation of their research project – NanocANDy.

BIOMOD (the abbreviation stands for ‘biomolecular design’) is an annual competition sponsored by the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, to which student teams submit ideas for the design and assembly of nanomachines, such as molecular computers or prototypes of nanoscale therapeutic agents, based on and inspired by biomolecules – DNA, RNA and proteins.

The Nanocandy project makes use of the principles of DNA origami to produce specialized nanocarrier scaffolds that will enable researchers to understand the highly complex interactions between sugar-based carbohydrate structures called glycans and proteins in biological systems.

Glycans are chains of sugar molecules attached to cell-surface proteins, which play essential roles in processes such as cell-cell recognition and cell proliferation. Defects in these processes or failure to produce the molecules involved can lead to serious illnesses – as in the case of tumorigenesis. The sugar patterns found in glycans are tremendously diverse, which is one reason why so-called lectins – the proteins that recognize and bind to these carbohydrate structures – are of particular interest as tools for understanding the factors that underlie such interactions. Nanocandy is designed to act as a modifiable nanocarrier for the assembly of glycans of defined structure for use in the characterization of lectin binding specificities.

LMU’s BIOMOD team was supported by Professor Tim Liedl of the Soft Condensed Matter Group at the Faculty of Physics, who is a specialist in the innovative field of DNA origami. The term refers to techniques that exploit the structural flexibility of DNA strands as the basis for the design of scaffolds on which complex and structures can be assembled. Thus the researchers make use of the ability of single-stranded DNA molecules to fold into an enormous variety of three-dimensional shapes, depending on their nucleotide sequence. This strategy makes it possible to construct complicated molecular structures that can have dimensions on the order of micrometers, but can be modified at a nanometer scale – to present glycans of diverse structure to lectins, for instance.