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Björn Högberg

Associate prof. Karolinska Institutet Engineering sciences Year of admission: 2014

DNA origami – a new tool for understanding cells
Björn Högberg can control the folding of DNA molecules by programming the genetic code: this is called DNA origami. As a Wallenberg Academy Fellow, he will use DNA origami as a tool for investigating the interactions between cells and mapping the differences in gene expression between healthy cells and cancer cells.

When cells communicate with each other they place molecules on their surface; these can be read by their neighboring cells though a type of feeler, known as a receptor. Associate Professor Björn Högberg from the Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, will investigate whether the density and pattern of the signaling molecules on the surface has a role in the information exchanges between the cells.

In order to control the distances between the signaling molecules he will use something called DNA origami, where he constructs nanometer sized objects using DNA strands. He creates a kind of molecular caliper, which he uses to place signaling molecules at exact distances from each other. One important aim is to improve the understanding of which signals cause cancer cells to move in an uncontrolled manner.

Björn Högberg will also use DNA origami and fluorescing molecules to create a nanoscopic barcode. This will help him map the gene expression of individual cells and their neighboring cells in skin follicles. These cells divide a great deal, but do not become cancerous. What it the difference between them and a cancer cell?

 

Photo: Ulf Sirborn