Team NTU’s NanoNeedle Wins Big Awards at Harvard Competition

An interdepartmental team of undergraduates returned to campus with a bagful of majorawards after competing in the Biomolecular Design Competition (BIOMOD) at Harvard University, October 30 to November 1. During the competition, Team NTU showed off its NanoNeedle, a nanomolecular syringe-like device designed to deliver suicide genes that kill antibiotic resistant superbugs. The design impressed the judges in winning the Gold Medal Projects Award, Best Presentation Award, as well as the competition’s 5th Annual MOLBOT Award.
The students developed their biomolecular device for the course “Biochemical Project Design and Practice,” which was taught by Prof. Yen-Rong Chen of the Department of Biochemical Science and Technology and Prof. Hong-Ren Jiang of the Graduate Institute of Applied Mechanics. Made up of students from the Department of Life Science, Department of Electrical Engineering, and Department of Biochemical Science and Technology, Team NTU’s achievements are exemplary ofNTU’s efforts in promotinginterdisciplinary research and cooperation.
The NanoNeedle is a biomimetic nanomachine that functions like a bacteriophage. The team constructed the device using DNA origami to fold DNA into a two-part hollow tube composed of both a weak and a strong structure. The weak structure contains a plasmid carrying suicide genes, while the strong structure is rigid enough to breach the plasma membranes and cell walls of bacteria. Three aptamers located at the business end of the tube accurately identify targeted bacteria and bind to their cell walls, allowing the strong structure to penetrate the cell walls and inject the weak structure’s deadly payload into the bacteria.
Team NTU created the NanoNeedle as an alternative to antibiotics in the treatment of multiple drug resistant bacterial infections. NanoNeedle can be outfitted with different mixes of aptamers and suicide genes that target and kill specific bacteria. Although the students still haven’t graduated, they have already successfully developed a new delivery system for gene therapies devised to combat superbugs and other pathogens.
From the establishment of the team to the day of their project presentation at Harvard, the students stayed focused and determined over the course of ten long months.  Fromthe conception of the NanoNeedle to the achievement of experimental proof of the viability of their innovative device, this team--featuring members with widely different backgrounds--had an interdisciplinary mix that proved to be a major advantage at every stage of the project.
Remarking on his students’ achievements, Prof. Chen noted that interdisciplinary cooperation like theirswill be essential in the field of biotechnology for the continued innovation of new value-added applications and novel creations.

To learn more about the project, check out the NanoNeedle project video.