Cyanic acid can modify DNA's familiar double-helix structure into a triple-helix formation.
Nicole Avakyan Cyanic acid can modify DNA's familiar double-helix structure into a triple-helix formation.

A recent study revealed that the chlorine stabilizer cyanuric acid can be used to alter the shape of DNA.

Cyanuric acid prevents chlorine from getting burned off by the sun’s rays. According to the Leslie’s Swimming Pool Supplies blog, up to 90 percent of a pool’s chlorine can be lost within two hours without the use of the acid.

Now, think back to biology class. We learned that DNA, the building block of life that stores all the genetic information of an organism, has a double-helix structure (like a twisted ladder). It’s formed when two separate strands of DNA connect via DNA bases, which are identified with the letters A, G, C and T. These connections form the rungs of the ladder.

But when a molecule of cyanuric acid is added to the mix, the result is a completely new structure: a triple helix.

The idea to create a new structure came up about eight years ago, when a teacher and student were brainstorming. Hanadi Sleiman, Canada Research chair in DNA Nanoscience at McGill University in Montreal and senior author of the study, and one of her then-students, Faisal Aldaye, were thinking of a way to create new assemblies from DNA, reports Nicole Avakyan, a Ph.D. student in Sleiman’s lab and first author of the study. “They imagined that using a small molecule that has structural features that make it compatible with natural DNA bases might induce DNA to make a new structure,” said Avakyan. “Cyanuric acid turned out to be an ideal candidate.”

DNA with a triple-helix structure occurs naturally and plays biological roles in living organisms. “This discovery that a small molecule can reprogram the assembly of DNA represents a new way to make DNA assemblies,” Avakyan said. “… The advantage of this method is the use of inexpensive, nontoxic starting materials to access unique, new structures from DNA.”

And the benefits of these study results stretch across many different areas of research. “With further development, we can envisage a variety of applications of this material, from medicinal chemistry to tissue engineering and materials science,” Avakyan said.