Carnegie Mellon University

September 28, 2013

CNAST's outreach program, DNAZone, participated in the first annual Chemistry Carnival, organized by the Greater Pittsburgh Younger Chemists Committee (affiliated with the Pittsburgh Section of the American Chemical Society). The family-friendly carnival was a free event held at Carnegie Mellon University's Mellon Institute. The schedule included twelve interactive demonstrations facilitated by Carnegie Mellon University labs and groups as well as other local university groups. In addition, an undergraduate and graduate poster session took place in the middle of the afternoon. The goal of the carnival was to provide local community outreach and education in a fun atmosphere.

DNAZone volunteers facilited a booth with two activities. Participants marbled paper with shaving cream and food coloring to explore water, polarity, and hydrophilic and hydrophobic materials. Then, they studied the components of light using a CD/DVD spectroscope. In addition, graduate students Taylor Canady and Genoa Warner showcased their DNA hybridization model which brings DNA molecules alive for students by substituting static textbook figures for tactile models. Their demonstration depicts various nucleotide secondary structures (stem loops) and helps promote the idea that nucleic acids are dynamic and the physical forms they take do indeed vary.

Learn more about the 2013 YCC Chemistry Carnival

View pictures from the 2013 YCC Chemistry Carnival on the Greater Pittsburgh YCC's Facebook

August 9, 2013

CNAST's outreach program, DNAZone, participated in University of Pittsburgh's 2013 "Sciencepalooza," organized by the Pitt Science Outreach Program. Sciencepalooza is a day-long camp designed to spark children's interest in science by showing them the many exciting applications of the field. About 400 children from local YMCA and YWCA chapters participated in the day, which was held at the University of Pittsburgh. Grouped by grade level, the campers visited four stations where they saw exciting scientific demonstrations and participated in hands-on activities.

DNAZone faciliated a station for the 4th-6th grade student groups. CNAST graduate students and postdocs, and University of Pittsburgh graduate student volunteers ran two activities with the children at the DNAZone station. Children marbled paper with shaving cream and food coloring to explore water, polarity, and hydrophilic and hydrophobic materials. Then, the children studied the components of light using a CD/DVD spectroscope. The children also learned about solubility by making (and eating!) chocolate mousse, which was a big hit.

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Read more about the 2013 Sciencepalooza on UPMC's website

Watch a short video about the 2013 Sciencepalooza on UPMC's website

July 25, 2013

Contacts: Ken Walters / 412-268-1151 /
               Chriss Swaney / 412-268-5776 /

PITTSBURGH—Six Carnegie Mellon University professors (four of whom are members of CNAST) are among the first series of grant recipients of The Charles E. Kaufman Foundation, part of The Pittsburgh Foundation, which today announced nearly $1.6 million in research grants to support cutting-edge scientific research at institutions across Pennsylvania.

Carnegie Mellon recipients are:

-Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Joel McManus for research on "High-Throughput Probing of Human IncRNA Structure."
-Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering Aditya S. Khair for research on "Charges, Forces and Particles in Ionic Liquids."
-Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Veronica Hinman, Professor of Biological Sciences Jonathan Minden, Chemistry Professor Bruce Alan Armitage and Associate Chemistry Professor Danith H. Ly for research on "Developing a Sea Star Model for Regenerative Biology."

McManus and Khair will receive two-year, $150,000 New Investigator grants.  Hinman, Minden, Armitage and Ly will receive a two-year, $300,000 New Initiative grant.

The new grantmaking program, which becomes one of the major resources for scientific research in the State of Pennsylvania, will award funding annually and has been made possible through the biggest bequest to The Pittsburgh Foundation in its 68-year history.

Read the full press release on Carnegie Mellon University's website

July 24, 2013

Discovery Reveals Key Mechanism Responsible for Viral Infection

Contact: Jocelyn Duffy / 412-268-9982 /

PITTSBURGH—Herpes viruses are like tiny powder kegs waiting to explode. For more than 20 years scientists suspected that herpes viruses were packaged so full of genetic material that they built up an internal pressure so strong it could shoot viral DNA into a host cell during infection. No one had been able to prove that theory until now.

Carnegie Mellon University biophysicist Alex Evilevitch together with his graduate student David Bauer and University of Pittsburgh collaborators Fred Homa and Jamie Huffman have measured, for the first time, the pressure inside human herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1). The study, published online in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, provides the first experimental evidence of high internal pressure within a virus that infects humans. This phenomenon was previously only attributed to viruses that infect bacteria, called bacteriophages.

Read the full press release on Carnegie Mellon University's website

July 15, 2013

Tightly Packed Macromolecules Enhance Gene Expression in Artificial Cellular System

By: Jocelyn Duffy,, 412-268-9982

PITTSBURGH—The interior of a living cell is a crowded place, with proteins and other macromolecules packed tightly together. A team of scientists at Carnegie Mellon University has approximated this molecular crowding in an artificial cellular system and found that tight quarters help the process of gene expression, especially when other conditions are less than ideal.

As the researchers report in an advance online publication by the journal Nature Nanotechnology, these findings may help explain how cells have adapted to the phenomenon of molecular crowding, which has been preserved through evolution. And this understanding may guide synthetic biologists as they develop artificial cells that might someday be used for drug delivery, biofuel production and biosensors.

The research team, which included Russell Schwartz, professor of biological sciences; Philip LeDuc, professor of mechanical engineering and biological sciences; Marcel Bruchez, associate professor of chemistry and biological sciences; and Saumya Saurabh, a doctoral student in chemistry, developed its artificial cellular system using molecular components from bacteriophage T7, a virus that infects bacteria that is often used as a model in synthetic biology.

Read the full press release on Carnegie Mellon University's website

May 31, 2013

Contact: Jocelyn Duffy / 412-268-9982 /

PITTSBURGH- Developmental biologists at Carnegie Mellon University have identified the gene regulatory networks (GRNs) responsible for the creation and organization of neurons in starfish. The findings, published in the May 21 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide a better understanding of how genes are regulated in order to form complex patterns of neurons.

In the current study, Veronica Hinman and colleagues identified two GRNs responsible for neuronal cell differentiation in the larvae of starfish. Ancestors of starfish formed neurons that existed throughout the organism's body without any pattern in a structure called a nerve net. The nervous system of starfish larvae evolved to the next step in complexity, organizing in a distinctive pattern.

Read the full press release on Carnegie Mellon University's website

May 8, 2013

CNAST's outreach program, DNAZone, volunteered to be a part ofthe first annual Linden Academy science fair. CNAST graduate students and faculty gave demonstrations and facilitated experiments with the children and parents while the science projects were being judged. Children marbled paper with shaving cream and food coloring to explore water, polarity, and hydrophilic and hydrophobic materials. Then, the children studied the components of light using a CD/DVD spectroscope. The children also were able to learn about solubility by making chocolate mousse.

Part of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, Linden Academy is an elementary school located in Point Breeze in Pittsburgh, PA. Despite the fact that this was the first science fair that Linden Academy had organized, an incredible amount of interest was shown by the Linden Academy students, and close to 100 students participated.

April 27, 2013

CNAST held its third annual research symposium on Saturday, April 27, 2013 in the Mellon Institute. Twelve CNAST members gave presentations on the latest results from their laboratories. Presenters also spoke about the many benefits of collaboration among CNAST members and how these collaborations have helped them to develop new approaches to understanding nucleic acid chemistry and biology. CNAST members felt that it was especially satisfying to hear students and postdocs present results from their projects at the symposium.

View the 2013 symposium agenda and presenter abstracts

April 25, 2013

CNAST's outreach program, DNAZone, participated in Carnegie Mellon University's annual "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work" day. The program celebrated its 20th anniversary this year and DNAZone was happy to be a part of the day. CNAST graduate students, undergraduate students and faculty volunteered to faciliate DNAZone's presentation, titled "Chemistry is all around you!" As part of the presentation, the children were able to participate in three different activities.

In the first activity, the children marbled paper with shaving cream and food coloring to explore water, polarity, and hydrophilic and hydrophobic materials. Then, the children studied the components of light using a CD/DVD spectroscope. In the final activity, the children learned about solubility by making chocolate mousse.

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April 19, 2013

Dr. Subha Das, CNAST faculty, and co-authors Dr. Eduardo Paredes, Dr. Xiaojuan Zhang, Dr. Harshad Ghodke, and Dr. Vamsi K. Yadavalli were recently published in ACS Nano. The paper is titled "Backbone-Branched DNA Building Blocks for Facile Angular Control in Nanostructures."

Nanotechnology based on the highly specific pairing of nucleobases in DNA has been used to generate a wide variety of well-defined two- and three-dimensional assemblies, both static and dynamic. However, control over the junction angles to achieve them has been limited. To achieve higher order assemblies, the strands of the DNA duplex are typically made to deviate at junctions with configurations based on crossovers or non-DNA moieties. Such strand crossovers tend to be intrinsically unstructured with the overall structural rigidity determined by the architecture of the nanoassembly, rather than the junction itself. Specific approaches to define nanoassembly junction angles are based either on the cooperative twist- and strain-promoted tuning of DNA persistence length leading to bent DNA rods for fairly large nano-objects, or de novo synthesis of individual junction inserts that are typically non-DNA and based on small organic molecules or metal-coordinating ligand moieties. Here, we describe a general strategy for direct control of junction angles in DNA nanostructures that are completely tunable about the DNA helix. This approach is used to define angular vertices through readily accessible backbone-branched DNAs (bbDNAs). We demonstrate how such bbDNAs can be used as a new building block in DNA nanoconstruction to obtain well-defined nanostructures. Angular control through readily accessible bbDNA building block provides a general and versatile approach for incorporating well-defined junctions in nanoconstructs and expands the toolkit toward achieving strain free, highly size- and shape-tunable DNA based architectures.

Read the full paper on ACS Nano's website