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Luminescent Carbon Dot Mimics Assembled on DNA

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journal contribution
posted on 25.08.2017, 00:00 by Ke Min Chan, Wang Xu, Hyukin Kwon, Anna M. Kietrys, Eric T. Kool
Nanometer-sized fragments of carbon in the form of multilayer graphene (“carbon dots”) have been under highly active study for applications in imaging. While offering advantages of low toxicity and photostability, such nanomaterials are inhomogeneous and have limited wavelengths of emission. Here we address these issues by assembling luminescent aromatic C16–C38 hydrocarbons together on a DNA scaffold in homogeneous, soluble molecular compounds. Monomer deoxyribosides of five different aromatic hydrocarbons were synthesized and assembled into a library of 1296 different tetramer compounds on PEG-polystyrene beads. These were screened for photostability and a range of emission colors using 365 nm excitation, observing visible light (>400 nm) emission. We identified a set of six oligomers (DNA-carbon assemblies, DNA-CAs) with exceptional photostability that emit from 400 to 680 nm in water, with Stokes shifts of up to 110 nm, quantum yields ranging from 0.01 to 0.29, and fluorescence lifetimes from 3 to 42 ns. In addition, several of these DNA-CAs exhibited white emission in aqueous solution. The molecules were used in multispectral cell imaging experiments and were taken up into cells passively. The results expand the range of emission properties that can be achieved in water with all-hydrocarbon chromophores and establish the use of the DNA scaffold to arrange carbon layers in homogeneous, rapidly synthesized assemblies.