DNA nanotechnology's Oscar season

'Tis the season. Movies are released year round, but November and December are when the Oscar buzz starts. A slew of movies, made for such awards, storm the theaters. This season saw such a surge in research articles in the field of DNA nanotechnology, where four articles featured in one issue of Nature, and one more article in Science. There were many other papers in DNA nanotechnology that were published in top journals earlier in the year, but the media storm around these were abounding. Specifically, these papers contributed an advancement in the assembly of DNA nanostructures and scaling them up to size ranges not achieved before. I'm not going to discuss these papers in detail here, but just point out what was done.

Lulu Qian's group from Caltech made a Mona Lisa using DNA origami fractal assembly. The group made square tiles with specific surface patterns that can connect via controllable DNA interactions.

Peng Yin's group at Harvard used the DNA bricks they already developed, and extended the concept to construct large scale sculptures (including a teddy bear).


A gigadalton sized dodecahedron made from DNA origami parts.  Source:  Nature publishing group.

A gigadalton sized dodecahedron made from DNA origami parts. Source: Nature publishing group.

Hendrik Dietz's group at Technical University of Munich assembled DNA origami parts into a gigadalton polyhedron, the largest of origami objects ever made (~450 nm). In a double feature, Dietz's group also report a strategy to mass-produce the DNA strands required for such feats, by utilizing bacteriophages (a type of virus) to create the staple strands. This method reduces the cost of DNA origami structures 1000-fold.

Read the perspective by Fei Zhang and Hao Yan in Nature for an overview of these research reports.

Another paper in Science - a collaboration between Peng Yin and Hao Yan at Arizona State University - showed that DNA origami can be done using single stranded DNA and RNA. The "traditional" DNA origami strategy is double stranded: one long 'scaffold' strand is folded into desired shapes by hundreds of short complementary 'staple' strands. It is to be noted that Dietz's group had, earlier in 2017, showed the creation of DNA origami using proteins as staples (which used double stranded DNA as scaffold), also published in Science.

Many such novel techniques have advanced the construction of DNA nanostructures in larger scales and bridging the gap between bottom-up and top-down assembly. The applications the field promised is still elusive, but with every new research article coming out, the effort is gaining traction.