Researchers develop nanodevice manufacturing strategy using DNA 'building blocks'

May 30, 2012
Single-stranded tiles (SSTs) are interlocking DNA "building blocks" that can be programmed to assemble themselves into precisely designed shapes, including letters, numbers, and emoticons. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have developed a method for building complex nanostructures out of short synthetic strands of DNA. Called single-stranded tiles (SSTs), these interlocking DNA "building blocks," akin to Legos, can be programmed to assemble themselves into precisely designed shapes, such as letters and emoticons. Further development of the technology could enable the creation of new nanoscale devices, such as those that deliver drugs directly to disease sites.

The technology, which is described in today's online issue of Nature, was developed by a research team led by Wyss core faculty member Peng Yin, Ph.D., who is also an Assistant Professor of at Harvard Medical School. Other team members included Wyss Postdoctoral Fellow Bryan Wei, Ph.D., and graduate student Mingjie Dai.

DNA is best known as a keeper of . But in an emerging field of science known as DNA nanotechnology, it is being explored for use as a material with which to build tiny, programmable structures for diverse applications. To date, most research has focused on the use of a single long biological strand of DNA, which acts as a backbone along which smaller strands bind to its many different segments, to create shapes. This method, called DNA , is also being pursued at the Wyss Institute under the leadership of Core Faculty member William Shih, Ph.D. Shih is also an Associate Professor in the Department of and at Harvard Medical School and the Department of at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Wyss Institute researchers have developed a method for building complex nanostructures out of short synthetic strands of DNA. Called single-stranded tiles (SSTs), these interlocking DNA "building blocks" can be programmed to assemble themselves into precisely designed shapes. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

In focusing on the use of short strands of and avoiding the long scaffold strand, Yin's team developed an alternative building method. Each SST is a single, short strand of DNA. One tile will interlock with another tile, if it has a complementary sequence of DNA. If there are no complementary matches, the blocks do not connect. In this way, a collection of tiles can assemble itself into specific, predetermined shapes through a series of interlocking local connections.

In demonstrating the method, the researchers created just over one hundred different designs, including Chinese characters, numbers, and fonts, using hundreds of tiles for a single structure of 100 nanometers (billionths of a meter) in size. The approach is simple, robust, and versatile.

As synthetically based materials, the SSTs could have some important applications in medicine. SSTs could organize themselves into drug-delivery machines that maintain their structural integrity until they reach specific cell targets, and because they are synthetic, can be made highly biocompatible.

"Use of DNA nanotechnology to create programmable nanodevices is an important focus at the Wyss Institute, because we believe so strongly in its potential to produce a paradigm-shifting approach to development of new diagnostics and therapeutics," said Wyss Founding Director, Donald Ingber, M.D., Ph.D.

Explore further: Research reveals how our bodies keep unwelcome visitors out of cell nuclei

Related Stories

DNA nanorobot triggers targeted therapeutic responses

Feb 16, 2012

Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have developed a robotic device made from DNA that could potentially seek out specific cell targets within a complex ...

Scientists create custom 3D structures with 'DNA origami'

May 20, 2009

BOSTON--By combining the art of origami with nanotechnology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute researchers have folded sheets of DNA into multilayered objects with dimensions thousands of times smaller than the thickness of a ...

Physicists create first robust DNA building blocks

Dec 09, 2005

Physicists from the University of Oxford have designed the first structurally robust, self-assembling DNA building blocks. The DNA tetrahedra, 10,000,000,000 (ten thousand million) of which could fit on the ...

Recommended for you

Study shows graphene able to withstand a speeding bullet

17 hours ago

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers working at Rice University in the U.S. has demonstrated that graphene is better able to withstand the impact of a bullet than either steel or Kevlar. In their paper published ...

Nanomaterials to preserve ancient works of art

Nov 27, 2014

Little would we know about history if it weren't for books and works of art. But as time goes by, conserving this evidence of the past is becoming more and more of a struggle. Could this all change thanks ...

Learning anti-microbial physics from cicada

Nov 27, 2014

(Phys.org) —Inspired by the wing structure of a small fly, an NPL-led research team developed nano-patterned surfaces that resist bacterial adhesion while supporting the growth of human cells.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

flashgordon
not rated yet May 30, 2012
One would think this is an obvious step; the question is still can one program dna-nanotechnology to build more robust nanomanufacturing?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.