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IIN Frontiers in Nanotechnology Seminar Series – Itamar Willner

Professor Itamar Willner

Institute of Chemistry
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

DNA-Nanotechnology: From Basic Science to Practical Applications


The base sequences of nucleic acids encode substantial structural and functional information of the biopolymer and provide a rich “toolbox” to develop the area of DNA-nanotechnology. Recent developments in using nucleic acids as scaffolds to construct new functional materials will be introduced. Particularly, practical applications of DNA- based materials will be highlighted.

Nucleic acids are used as scaffolds to construct signal-triggered switchable DNA machines, such as tweezers, walkers, and interlocked catenated structures. The machines are used to organize programmed Au-nanoparticle structures, and thus, control their plasmonic properties.

In addition, the unique recognition functions of sequence-specific nucleic acids (aptamers) provide a versatile means to construct catalytic nucleic acids mimicking native enzymes, “nucleoapzymes.” By the conjugation of transition metal complexes to aptamers, libraries of nucleoapzymes that include specific binding sites and catalytic sites are prepared. This will be exemplified by the synthesis of a hemin/G-quadruplex/dopamine aptamer or a Fe(III)-terpyridine/tyrosine amide aptamer as catalytic nucleoapzymes.

Important perspectives of nucleic acids rest, however, on their use to develop functional materials for sensing, biomedical, and mechanical applications. These challenges will be introduced by designing DNA-based stimuli-responsive hydrogels that reveal shape-memory, self-healing, controlled release, and mechanical functions. In addition, nucleic-acid-capped metal-organic framework nanoparticles and nucleic-acid-stabilized microcapsules provide stimuli-responsive carriers for controlled drug-release. Different auxiliary signals, such as pH, redox, light, chemicals, and more are used to control the switchable functions of hydrogels and to unlock the different carriers.


Itamar Willner is a Professor of Chemistry at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. He received his PhD from The Hebrew University in 1978, and then spent three years as a postdoctoral research fellow at UC – Berkeley. He joined the Institute of Chemistry at The Hebrew University in 1981, and was appointed as Professor in 1986. He has co-authored over 780 research papers and monographs and is one of the most cited chemists worldwide, with an h-index of 127 (ISI). Willner has received many awards and distinctions, among them the Israel Chemical Society Award, the Israel Prize in Chemistry, the Rothschild Prize, the EMET Prize, and the Gold Medal of the Israel Chemical Society. He is a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities (serves at present as the head of the Science Division), the German National Academy of Sciences ­– Leopoldina, and the European Academy of Sciences and Arts. He is a member of more than 30 editorial (advisory) boards of journals, including Journal of the American Chemical Society, Nano Letters, ACS Nano, Angewandte Chemie, Langmuir, Small, and more.

Willner’s research interests include nanotechnology, biotechnology, and energy-related topics (artificial photosynthesis, biofuel cells, and photobiofuel cells). He is one of the world’s leaders in nanobio science and DNA nanotechnology.


IIN Frontiers in Nanotechnology Seminar Series – Itamar Willner

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Date & Time:
Fri, August 17, 2018
10:30 am - 11:30 am
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