Elisa Franco, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, has received a $711,000 research grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to continue developing DNA-based synthetic molecules.

Such molecules could be the key for smart artificial biomaterials that can respond to what’s happening around them, like initiating self-repair. Eventually, such materials could be incorporated into artificial replacement cells and tissues that could perform multiple and complex functions like that of their real counterparts. Such materials could also be used to deliver therapeutics.

Franco leads the Dynamic Nucleic Acid Systems Laboratory at UCLA. The research group has previously created a toolkit of DNA-based components that can respond to molecular signals. They also have shown these components can self-organize.

The new DOE grant will support research in designing DNA-based molecules that that can store energy for long periods of time. And then use that energy, either over sustained periods of time, or in response to a signal, to self-assemble into new configurations.