Electrostatically PEGylated DNA enables salt-free hybridization in water†
Chemically modified nucleic acids have long served as a very important class of bio-hybrid structures. In particular, the modification with PEG has advanced the scope and performance of oligonucleotides in materials science, catalysis and therapeutics. Most of the applications involving pristine or modified DNA rely on the potential of DNA to form a double-stranded structure. However, a substantial requirement for metal-cations to achieve hybridization has restricted the range of applications. To extend the applicability of DNA in salt-free or low ionic strength aqueous medium, we introduce noncovalent DNA–PEG constructs that allow canonical base-pairing between individually PEGylated complementary strands resulting in a double-stranded structure in salt-free aqueous medium. This method relies on grafting of amino-terminated PEG polymers electrostatically onto the backbone of DNA, which results in the formation of a PEG-envelope. The specific charge interaction of PEG molecules with DNA, absolute absence of metal ions within the PEGylated DNA molecules and formation of a double helix that is significantly more stable than the duplex in an ionic buffer have been unequivocally demonstrated using multiple independent characterization techniques.