Our Bold Idea
The DNA molecule—known to most as the genetic blueprint of all life— is also a remarkably versatile building material, unlike any other.
With it, the construction of delicate architectural forms, shrunk down to the nanoscale, is possible. Initial forays into this revolutionary field—known as DNA origami—produced spirals, criss-crosses, maps and even words, all of which capitalize on DNA base pairing. The Center for Single Molecule Biophysics has taken these techniques to an entirely new level, producing 2- and 3-D DNA nanoforms that may one day be used in advanced electronics, molecular sensing devices and for futuristic biomedical applications.
Nature appears inexhaustible in her ability to create strikingly beautiful shapes. Many of these inspire and guide the development of DNA nanoarchitectures. The construction of natural forms—from snowflakes to the exquisite marine creatures known as diatoms—occurs from the ground up, and DNA origami uses the same approach to create programmable, self-assembling structures able to mimic their natural counterparts. The technique can also produce novel shapes, never before seen.
To date, nanoforms ranging from baskets, bowls and round-bottomed flasks, to DNA spheres, tetrahedra and Mobius strips have all been produced in the Yan laboratory. A spider fabricated from DNA and proteins was also created, demonstrating its startling ability to walk along a specially designed track. One of the most exciting prospects on the horizon for DNA nanoforms is in the biomedical arena, where intelligent drug-delivery mechanisms and virus-sized hunter-killer robots targeting diseased cells may one day enter the bloodstream and carry out their tasks.
Hao Yan, PhD
Center for Single Molecule Biophysics