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DNA Does Origami

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It can create a being as complex as you — and it can also make nanoscale smiley faces. There’s seemingly no end to the power of DNA, now seen folding into shapes and images.

Here at GT, we’re on a constant quest for the weirdly beautiful — and so far, the fields of systems biology haven’t disappointed. The latest: nanoscale shapes built using DNA. While the concept isn’t new — scientist Ned Seeman at New York University first proposed it two decades back — scientists today have a new take on it.

Paul Rothemund from Caltech came up with an approach much faster and easier than previous methods: using a single strand of DNA from the M13 virus along with smaller strands called “staples” that tell the DNA where and how to fold (inset: a folding diagram).

Beyond basic shapes and smiley faces, Rothemund has gone as far as designing snowflakes, hexagons, and a miniature map of the Americas. To give an idea of size, the two smiley faces you see are each about 100 nanometers across and two nanometers thick.

To see the page with full images, check out the PDF here.

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