L A K I N   L A B
Programmable Biology

University of New Mexico

CAREER: Robust heterochiral molecular computing in mammalian cells

Project abstract

The DNA double helix is one of the most iconic and well-known molecular structures. All naturally occurring DNA double helices twist in the same direction: to the right. These are called D-DNA. Molecular devices made from D-DNA can interact directly with naturally occurring nucleic acids, but such devices are easily recognized and degraded by cellular defenses that recognize naturally occurring D-DNA. A wide range of D-DNA molecular sensors, circuits and actuators have been developed in recent years, but their utility in living cells and organisms is limited by this issue.

This CAREER project will enhance the practical utility of DNA-based molecular devices by engineering systems that include mirror-image "left-handed" DNA (L-DNA). The L-DNA double helix twists in the opposite direction to D-DNA and can therefore resist degradation in the cellular environment. In particular, this project will study the transmission of molecular information between L-DNA and D-DNA in these novel circuit designs, combining experimental and computational research to optimize the behavior of these systems and to demonstrate their use for sensing and control of biological systems. Preliminary data on this topic was published in ACS Synthetic Biology.

This CAREER project will also strengthen the biotechnology educational pipeline in New Mexico via a collaboration with ¬°Explora!, a hands-on science museum in Albuquerque, NM. This collaboration will develop biotechnology minicourses for local high school students, with a focus on members of underrepresented groups. This project will thus enhance the scientific and engineering training infrastructure in the state of New Mexico.

We are hiring postdocs to work on this project!

Project news

June 2022The first iteration of our NSF CAREER-funded biotechnology summer camp concludes! High-school students from the Albuquerque area spent four days at ¡Explora! working with Lakin Lab members carrying out activities and assays including cell-free expression reactions, gel electrophoresis, and CRISPR interference experiments!

June 2022Tracy's paper on using L-DNA to protect molecular circuits from degradation is published online in ACS Synthetic Biology. Congratulations!

November 2021Dr. Caroline Rempe joins the group as a technical staff member working on outreach projects. Welcome!

August 2021Dr. Lakin gives an invited talk as part of the Build-A-Cell virtual seminar series.

August 2021A new undergraduate student, Sameen Jawadi, joins the group. Welcome!

July 2021Dr. Lakin gives an invited talk at the Synthetic Approaches to Biology and Artificial Intelligence (SB-AI) workshop, a satellite workshop of the 2021 ALIFE conference.

May 2021Dr. Lakin gives an invited talk at the 2021 International Conference on Engineering Synthetic Cells and Organelles.

April 2021This CAREER project is formally underway!

March 2021Dr. Lakin's NSF CAREER award is featured on the UNM Newsroom website.

Project publications


Tracy L. Mallette and Matthew R. Lakin. Protecting heterochiral DNA nanostructures against exonuclease-mediated degradation. ACS Synthetic Biology, volume 11, number 7, pages 2222–2228, 2022. Link to article. BibTeX.

Project activities

June 2022 - Biotechnology summer camp

From June 27-30, seven high-school students from the Albuquerque area took part in an NSF-funded biotechnology summer camp led by members of the Lakin Lab in partnership with ¡Explora!, an experiential science museum located in Albuquerque. Students learned about biotechnology career options and carried out experiments and learning activities designed to teach biotechnology lab skills. These included cell-free protein expression reactions, agar art using strains of E. coli expressing fluorescent proteins and chromoproteins, gel electrophoresis, and cell-free CRISPR interference experiments. Thank you to all lab members and ¡Explora! staff for their assistance, and to the students themselves!

Project people

Matthew Lakin (Principal investigator)

Tracy Mallette (Graduate student)

  • B.S., Missouri University of Science and Technology, Chemical Engineering, 2011
  • Working towards: Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

Sameen Jawadi (Undergraduate student)

  • Working towards: B.S. in Biology

Caroline Rempe (Technical staff)

  • B.S., University of New Mexico, Biology, 2010
  • B.A., University of New Mexico, English, 2010
  • Ph.D., University of Tennessee, Biology, 2016