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DNA builds by design

  April 13/20, 2009
Heat up the right DNA strands and let them cool slowly, and you're a step closer to growing complicated objects in a test tube.

The programmable DNA assembly technique builds ribbons of DNA molecules. The ribbons are interconnected DNA tiles, which are themselves interconnected DNA molecules. A 70-nanometer-wide block of tiles triggers the assembly process, and the properties of ribbons are determined by this seed block's structure.

The process begins with a heated solution of free-floating DNA molecules. Partially cooling the solution causes the seed block and other tiles to form. Further cooling triggers the ribbon-growing process.

The process can produce ribbons containing binary codes. The technique, combined with DNA's ability to bind to other molecules, nanotubes and nanoparticles, opens a route to programmed self-assembly of objects. Possibilities include computer chips, data storage devices and drug delivery devices.

Research paper:
An Information-Bearing Seed for Nucleating Algorithmic Self-Assembly
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online March 24, 2009

Researchers' homepage:
The DNA and Natural Algorithms Group, Caltech

Related stories and briefs:
Programmed DNA forms fractal -- precursor research

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