Computer simulation shows buckyballs deform DNA

C60 buckyball

Since their discovery, “buckyballs” have presented tantalizing prospects of revolutionizing medicine. However, a new study raises a red flag regarding their safety when dissolved in water.

Depending on the form the DNA takes, the 60-carbon-atom (C60) buckyball molecule can lodge in the end of a DNA molecule and break apart important hydrogen bonds within the double helix. They can also stick to the minor grooves on the outside of DNA, causing the DNA molecule to bend significantly to one side. It turns out that buckyballs have a stronger affinity for DNA than they do for themselves.

    “Buckyballs have a potentially adverse effect on the structure, stability and biological functions of DNA molecules.”

    “What this study shows is that if the buckyballs can get into the nucleus they could cause real problems. What are needed now are experimental and theoretical studies to demonstrate whether they can actually get there. Because the toxicity of nanomaterials like buckyballs is not well known at this point, they are regarded in the laboratory as potentially very hazardous, and treated accordingly.”