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Modular Design of Programmable Mechanofluorescent DNA Hydrogels

Read the full article here: Nature Communications, 2019, 10, 528.

Mechanosensing systems are ubiquitous in nature and control many functions from cell spreading to wound healing. Biologic systems typically rely on supramolecular transformations and secondary reporter systems to sense weak forces. By contrast, synthetic mechanosensitive materials often use covalent transformations of chromophores, serving both as force sensor and reporter, which hinders orthogonal engineering of their sensitivity, response and modularity. Here, we introduce FRET-based, rationally tunable DNA tension probes into macroscopic 3D all-DNA hydrogels to prepare mechanofluorescent materials with programmable sacrificial bonds and stress relaxation. This design addresses current limitations of mechanochromic system by offering spatiotemporal resolution, as well as quantitative and modular force sensing in soft hydrogels. The programmable force probe design further grants temporal control over the recovery of the mechanofluorescence during stress relaxation, enabling reversible and irreversible strain sensing. We show proof-of-concept applications to study strain fields in composites and to visualize freezing-induced strain patterns in homogeneous hydrogels.

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