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Lu presents at oct. 13 Director's Seminar

Yi Lu, professor of chemistry and member of the 3D Micro- and Nanosystems Group, will be speaking on "Discovering 'Genetic Codes' for Nanomaterials Morphologies and Employing the DNA-encoded Nanomaterials for Sensing, Imaging and Targeted Drug Delivery," on Thursday, Oct. 13, at noon in Room 1005 Beckman. Lunch is provided.

Published on Oct. 4, 2016

Discovering 'Genetic Codes' for Nanomaterials Morphologies and Employing the DNA-encoded Nanomaterials for Sensing, Imaging and Targeted Drug Delivery

Yi Lu, professor of chemistry and member of the 3D Micro- and Nanosystems Group


Several properties of nanomaterials, such as morphologies (e.g., shapes and surface structures) and distance dependent properties (e.g., plasmonic and quantum confinement effects) make nanomaterials uniquely qualified as potential choices for future applications from catalysis to biomedicine. To realize the full potential of nanomaterials, however, it is important to demonstrate fine control of the nanoparticle morphology, and overcome its limitation of lack of selectivity toward targets or biomarkers in the environment and in biology. In this presentation, I will summarize recent progress in using DNA as a powerful programmable tool to achieve the above goals. First, inspired by the discovery of genetic codes in biology, we have discovered DNA codes for fine control of the morphologies of nanomaterials, when the nanomaterials are synthesized from the seeds of gold nanospheres, gold nanoprism, gold nanorods and silver nanocubes.1 As a result of these investigations, we have obtained novel nanomaterials display a wide variety of morphologies with high yields and possessing many interesting and tunable properties, such as catalytic activities and near-IR surface plasmon resonance. Furthermore, to make these nanomaterials more selective toward targets in environmental monitoring, food safety and biomedical applications, we have been able to use in vitro selection to obtain from a large library of DNA sequences DNAzymes, a new class of metalloenzymes that use DNA molecules exclusively for catalysis, and aptamers, a new class of nucleic acids that rivals antibodies, that can bind targets of choice strongly and specifically, and use negative selection strategy to improve the selectivity. By labeling the resulting DNAzymes and aptamers, with fluorophore/quencher, gold nanoparticles, gadolinium or supermagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles, we have developed new classes of fluorescent, colorimetric and MRI agents for metal ions and a wide range of other targets with high sensitivity (down to 14 pM) and selectivity (> 1 million fold selectivity).2 These sensors have been applied for imaging metal ions and other targets in living cells and in vivo to offer deeper insight into their roles in biology.3 They have also been combined with drugs as theranostic agents for both imaging and targeted drug delivery.4


  1. a) Li Huey Tan, et al., Acc. Chem. Res., 47, 1881 (2014); b) Zidong Wang, et al., Angew. Chem., Int. Ed. 51, 9078 (2012); c) Jiangjiexing Wu, et al., J. Am. Chem. Soc., 136, 15195 (2014); d) Tingjie Song, et al., Angew. Chem., Int. Ed. 54, 8114 (2015); e) Li Huey Tan, et al., J. Am. Chem. Soc. 137, 14456 (2015).
  2. a) Juewen Liu and Yi Lu, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 125, 6642-6643 (2003); b) Juewen Liu, et al., Proc. Natal. Acad. Sci. USA, 104, 2056-2061 (2007); c) Hang Xing, et al., Curr. Opin. Chem. Eng. 4, 79-87 (2014).
  3. a) Peiwen Wu, et al., J. Am. Chem. Soc. 135, 5254 (2013); b) Kevin Hwang, et al., Angew. Chem., Int. Ed. 53, 13798 (2014); c) Seyed-Fakhreddin Torabi, et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 112, 5903-5908 (2015).
  4. a) Z. Cao, et al., Angew Chemie Intl. Ed. 48, 6494 (2009); b) H. Xing, et. al. J. Mater. Chem. B 1, 5288 (2013); c) H. Xing, et al., Theranostics, 1336 (2016).

Dr. Yi Lu received his B.S. degree from Peking University in 1986, and Ph.D. degree from University of California at Los Angeles in 1992. After two years of postdoctoral research in Professor Harry B. Gray group at the Caltech, Dr. Lu started his own independent career in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign in 1994. He is now Jay and Ann Schenck Professor of Chemistry in the Departments of Chemistry, Biochemistry, Bioengineering and Materials Science and Engineering. He is also a member of the Center for Biophysics and Computational Biology, Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology and Carl R. Woese Institute of Genomic Biology. His research interests lie at the interface between chemistry and biology. Specific areas of current interests include a) design and engineering of functional metalloproteins as environmentally benign catalysts in renewable energy generation and pharmaceuticals; b) Fundamental understanding of DNAzymes and their applications in environmental monitoring, medical diagnostics, and targeted drug delivery; and c) Employing principles from biology for directed assembly of nanomaterials with controlled morphologies and its applications in imaging and medicine. Dr. Lu has received numerous research and teaching awards, including the Royal Society of Chemistry Applied Inorganic Chemistry Award (2015), Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (2015), and has been named to the Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researchers list for 2015 and 2016.