Nucleic acid-based technologies are an emerging research focus area for pharmacological and biological studies because they are biocompatible and can be designed to produce a variety of scaffolds at the nanometer scale. The use of nucleic acids (ribonucleic acid (RNA) and/or deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)) as building materials in programming the assemblies and their further functionalization has recently established a new exciting field of RNA and DNA nanotechnology, which have both already produced a variety of different functional nanostructures and nanodevices. It is evident that the resultant architectures require detailed structural and functional characterization and that a variety of technical approaches must be employed to promote the development of the emerging fields. Small-angle X-ray and neutron scattering (SAS) are structural characterization techniques that are well placed to determine the conformation of nucleic acid nanoparticles (NANPs) under varying solution conditions, thus allowing for the optimization of their design. SAS experiments provide information on the overall shapes and particle dimensions of macromolecules and are ideal for following conformational changes of the molecular ensemble as it behaves in solution. In addition, the inherent differences in the neutron scattering of nucleic acids, lipids, and proteins, as well as the different neutron scattering properties of the isotopes of hydrogen, combined with the ability to uniformly label biological macromolecules with deuterium, allow one to characterize the conformations and relative dispositions of the individual components within an assembly of biomolecules. This article will review the application of SAS methods and provide a summary of their successful utilization in the emerging field of NANP technology to date, as well as share our vision on its use in complementing a broad suite of structural characterization tools with some simulated results that have never been shared before.
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