Agency for Science, Technology and Research, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology
Qiancheng graduated from the University of Cambridge with a major in Genetics and worked as a Research Officer at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (A*STAR, Singapore). He is a graduate student at Yale University and studies in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS) doctoral program. Outside the laboratory, he also experiments with coffee and cakes.
Agency for Science, Technology and Research, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology
Singapore Armed Forces, Singapore Armoured Regiment
Singapore Ministry of Defence, Defence Psychology Department
Doctoral Candidate in Cell Biology
Master of Philosophy in Cell Biology, 2020
Bachelor of Arts in Natural Sciences
University of Cambridge
Honours in Mathematics, Biology and Chemistry, and Major in Physics
National University of Singapore
High School of Mathematics and Science
GCE O-Level Higher Chinese
GCE O-Level Japanese
CEFRL A2 Level
DNA nanotechnology is a unique field, where physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, engineering, and materials science can elegantly converge. Since the original proposal of Nadrian Seeman, significant advances have been achieved in the past four decades. During this glory time, the DNA origami technique developed by Paul Rothemund further pushed the field forward with a vigorous momentum, fostering a plethora of concepts, models, methodologies, and applications that were not thought of before. This review focuses on the recent progress in DNA origami-engineered nanomaterials in the past five years, outlining the exciting achievements as well as the unexplored research avenues. We believe that the spirit and assets that Seeman left for scientists will continue to bring interdisciplinary innovations and useful applications to this field in the next decade.
Increasing evidence has suggested that the HIV-1 capsid enters the nucleus in a largely assembled, intact form. However, not much is known about how the cone-shaped capsid interacts with the nucleoporins (NUPs) in the nuclear pore for crossing the nuclear pore complex. Here, we elucidate how NUP153 binds HIV-1 capsid by engaging the assembled capsid protein (CA) lattice. A bipartite motif containing both canonical and noncanonical interaction modules was identified at the C-terminal tail region of NUP153. The canonical cargo-targeting phenylalanine-glycine (FG) motif engaged the CA hexamer. By contrast, a previously unidentified triple-arginine (RRR) motif in NUP153 targeted HIV-1 capsid at the CA tri-hexamer interface in the capsid. HIV-1 infection studies indicated that both FG- and RRR-motifs were important for the nuclear import of HIV-1 cores. Moreover, the presence of NUP153 stabilized tubular CA assemblies in vitro. Our results provide molecular-level mechanistic evidence that NUP153 contributes to the entry of the intact capsid into the nucleus.
Delivering the virus genome into the host nucleus through the nuclear pore complex (NPC) is pivotal in human immunodeficiency virus 1 (HIV-1) infection. The mechanism of this process remains mysterious owing to the NPC complexity and the labyrinth of molecular interactions involved. Here we built a suite of NPC mimics—DNA-origami-corralled nucleoporins with programmable arrangements—to model HIV-1 nuclear entry. Using this system, we determined that multiple cytoplasm-facing Nup358 molecules provide avid binding for capsid docking to the NPC. The nucleoplasm-facing Nup153 preferentially attaches to high-curvature regions of the capsid, positioning it for tip-leading NPC insertion. Differential capsid binding strengths of Nup358 and Nup153 constitute an affinity gradient that drives capsid penetration. Nup62 in the NPC central channel forms a barrier that viruses must overcome during nuclear import. Our study thus provides a wealth of mechanistic insight and a transformative toolset for elucidating how viruses like HIV-1 enter the nucleus.
The DNA-origami technique has enabled the engineering of transmembrane nanopores with programmable size and functionality, showing promise in building biosensors and synthetic cells. However, it remains challenging to build large (>10 nm), functionalizable nanopores that spontaneously perforate lipid membranes. Here, we take advantage of pneumolysin (PLY), a bacterial toxin that potently forms wide ring-like channels on cell membranes, to construct hybrid DNA–protein nanopores. This PLY-DNA-origami complex, in which a DNA-origami ring corrals up to 48 copies of PLY, targets the cholesterol-rich membranes of liposomes and red blood cells, readily forming uniformly sized pores with an average inner diameter of ∼22 nm. Such hybrid nanopores facilitate the exchange of macromolecules between perforated liposomes and their environment, with the exchange rate negatively correlating with the macromolecule size (diameters of gyration: 8–22 nm). Additionally, the DNA ring can be decorated with intrinsically disordered nucleoporins to further restrict the diffusion of traversing molecules, highlighting the programmability of the hybrid nanopores. PLY-DNA pores provide an enabling biophysical tool for studying the cross-membrane translocation of ultralarge molecules and open new opportunities for analytical chemistry, synthetic biology, and nanomedicine.
Membrane dynamics in living organisms can arise from proteins adhering to, assembling on, and exerting force on cell membranes. Programmable synthetic materials, such as self-assembled DNA nanostructures, offer the capability to drive membrane-remodeling events that resemble protein-mediated dynamics but with user-defined outcomes. An illustrative example is the tubular deformation of liposomes by DNA nanostructures with purposely designed shapes, surface modifications, and self-assembling properties. However, stimulus-responsive membrane tubulation mediated by DNA reconfiguration remains challenging. Here, we present the triggered formation of membrane tubes in response to specific DNA signals that actuate membrane-bound DNA clamps from an open state to various predefined closed states, releasing prestored energy to activate membrane deformation. We show that the timing and efficiency of vesicle tubulation, as well as the membrane tube widths, are modulated by the conformational change of DNA clamps, marking a solid step toward spatiotemporal control of membrane dynamics in an artificial system.
The Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 recently swept the globe and showed high level of immune evasion. Here, we generate an Omicron-specific lipid nanoparticle (LNP) mRNA vaccine candidate, and test its activity in animals, both alone and as a heterologous booster to WT mRNA vaccine. Our Omicron-specific LNP-mRNA vaccine elicits strong antibody response in vaccination-naïve mice. Mice that received two-dose WT LNP-mRNA show a > 40-fold reduction in neutralization potency against Omicron than WT two weeks post boost, which further reduce to background level after 3 months. The WT or Omicron LNP-mRNA booster increases the waning antibody response of WT LNP-mRNA vaccinated mice against Omicron by 40 fold at two weeks post injection. Interestingly, the heterologous Omicron booster elicits neutralizing titers 10-20 fold higher than the homologous WT booster against Omicron variant, with comparable titers against Delta variant. All three types of vaccination, including Omicron alone, WT booster and Omicron booster, elicit broad binding antibody responses against SARS-CoV-2 WA-1, Beta, Delta variants and SARS-CoV. These data provide direct assessments of an Omicron-specific mRNA vaccination in vivo, both alone and as a heterologous booster to WT mRNA vaccine.
Lipid nanoparticle (LNP)-mRNA vaccines offer protection against COVID-19; however, multiple variant lineages caused widespread breakthrough infections. Here, we generate LNP-mRNAs specifically encoding wild-type (WT), B.1.351, and B.1.617 SARS-CoV-2 spikes, and systematically study their immune responses. All three LNP-mRNAs induced potent antibody and T cell responses in animal models; however, differences in neutralization activity have been observed between variants. All three vaccines offer potent protection against in vivo challenges of authentic viruses of WA-1, Beta, and Delta variants. Single-cell transcriptomics of WT- and variant-specific LNP-mRNA-vaccinated animals reveal a systematic landscape of immune cell populations and global gene expression. Variant-specific vaccination induces a systemic increase of reactive CD8 T cells and altered gene expression programs in B and T lymphocytes. BCR-seq and TCR-seq unveil repertoire diversity and clonal expansions in vaccinated animals. These data provide assessment of efficacy and direct systems immune profiling of variant-specific LNP-mRNA vaccination in vivo.
DNA nanotechnology provides a versatile and powerful tool to dissect the structure–function relationship of biomolecular machines like the nuclear pore complex (NPC), an enormous protein assembly that controls molecular traffic between the nucleus and cytoplasm. To understand how the intrinsically disordered, Phe-Gly-rich nucleoporins (FG-nups) within the NPC establish a selective barrier to macromolecules, we built a DNA-origami NanoTrap. The NanoTrap comprises precisely arranged FG-nups in an NPC-like channel, which sits on a baseplate that captures macromolecules that pass through the FG network. Using this biomimetic construct, we determined that the FG-motif type, grafting density, and spatial arrangement are critical determinants of an effective diffusion barrier. Further, we observed that diffusion barriers formed with cohesive FG interactions dominate in mixed-FG-nup scenarios. Finally, we demonstrated that the nuclear transport receptor, Ntf2, can selectively transport model cargo through NanoTraps composed of FxFG but not GLFG Nups. Our NanoTrap thus recapitulates the NPC’s fundamental biological activities, providing a valuable tool for studying nuclear transport.
PRL3, a unique oncotarget, is specifically overexpressed in 80.6% of cancers. In 2003, we reported that PRL3 promotes cell migration, invasion, and metastasis. Herein, firstly, we show that PRL3 induces Polyploid Giant Cancer Cells (PGCCs) formation. PGCCs constitute stem cell-like pools to facilitate cell survival, chemo-resistance, and tumor relapse. The correlations between PRL3 overexpression and PGCCs attributes raised possibilities that PRL3 could be involved in PGCCs formation. Secondly, we show that PRL3+ PGCCs co-express the embryonic stem cell markers SOX2 and OCT4 and arise mainly due to incomplete cytokinesis despite extensive DNA damage. Thirdly, we reveal that PRL3+ PGCCs tolerate prolonged chemotherapy-induced genotoxic stress via suppression of the pro-apoptotic ATM DNA damage-signaling pathway. Fourthly, we demonstrated PRL3-zumab, a First-in-Class humanized antibody drug against PRL3 oncotarget, could reduce tumor relapse in ‘tumor removal’ animal model. Finally, we confirmed that PGCCs were enriched in relapse tumors versus primary tumors. PRL3-zumab has been approved for Phase 2 clinical trials in Singapore, US, and China to block all solid tumors. This study further showed PRL3-zumab could potentially serve an ‘Adjuvant Immunotherapy’ after tumor removal surgery to eliminate PRL3+ PGCC stem-like cells, preventing metastasis and relapse.
In cells, myriad membrane-interacting proteins generate and maintain curved membrane domains with radii of curvature around or below 50 nm. To understand how such highly curved membranes modulate specific protein functions, and vice versa, it is imperative to use small liposomes with precisely defined attributes as model membranes. Here, we report a versatile and scalable sorting technique that uses cholesterol-modified DNA ‘nanobricks’ to differentiate hetero-sized liposomes by their buoyant densities. This method separates milligrams of liposomes, regardless of their origins and chemical compositions, into six to eight homogeneous populations with mean diameters of 30–130 nm. We show that these uniform, leak-resistant liposomes serve as ideal substrates to study, with an unprecedented resolution, how membrane curvature influences peripheral (ATG3) and integral (SNARE) membrane protein activities. Compared with conventional methods, our sorting technique represents a streamlined process to achieve superior liposome size uniformity, which benefits research in membrane biology and the development of liposomal drug-delivery systems.
Customizable nanostructures built through the DNA‐origami technique hold tremendous promise in nanomaterial fabrication and biotechnology. Despite the cutting‐edge tools for DNA‐origami design and preparation, it remains challenging to separate structural components of an architecture built from—thus held together by—a continuous scaffold strand, which in turn limits the modularity and function of the DNA‐origami devices. To address this challenge, here we present an enzymatic method to clean up and reconfigure DNA‐origami structures. We target single‐stranded (ss) regions of DNA‐origami structures and remove them with CRISPR‐Cas12a, a hyper‐active ssDNA endonuclease without sequence specificity. We demonstrate the utility of this facile, selective post‐processing method on DNA structures with various geometrical and mechanical properties, realizing intricate structures and structural transformations that were previously difficult to engineer. Given the biocompatibility of Cas12a‐like enzymes, this versatile tool may be programmed in the future to operate functional nanodevices in cells.
Non-vesicular lipid transport between bilayers at membrane contact sites plays important physiological roles. Mechanistic insight into the action of lipid-transport proteins localized at these sites requires determination of the distance between bilayers at which this transport can occur. Here we developed DNA-origami nanostructures to organize size-defined liposomes at precise distances and used them to study lipid transfer by the synaptotagmin-like mitochondrial lipid-binding protein (SMP) domain of extended synaptotagmin 1 (E-Syt1). Pairs of DNA-ring-templated donor and acceptor liposomes were docked through DNA pillars, which determined their distance. The SMP domain was anchored to donor liposomes via an unstructured linker, and lipid transfer was assessed via a Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET)-based assay. We show that lipid transfer can occur over distances that exceed the length of an SMP dimer, which is compatible with the shuttle model of lipid transport. The DNA nanostructures developed here can also be adapted to study other processes occurring where two membranes are closely apposed to each other.
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