Using DNA as Building Blocks

March Meeting 2010


James Riordon, APS
Jason Socrates Bardi, AIP
Phillip Schewe, AIP


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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Besides being one of the basic building blocks of biology, DNA has the potential to be a scaffold for advancing other areas of science says nanotechnologist Ned Seeman of New York University. Seeman and his colleagues recently reported in the journal Nature the results of a project 29 years in the making that was designed to do just that.

In life, DNA almost always adopts the distinct double-helical structure made famous by Watson and Crick. However, there are some times in a cell when a DNA molecule will adopt a branched structure—most notably when the genes of the father and mother are combined during the development of germ cells. Seeman and his colleagues took advantage of the ability of DNA to make these branching structures and designed small branched pieces of DNA with "sticky" ends that can join one to the other. 

Depending on the design of these pieces, the scientists can form interesting 3-D arrangements in the test tube. So far, they have used the technique to make polyhedra, nanomechanical devices, 2-D lattices, and self-assembled 3-D crystals of DNA, whose structures they have determined by X-ray crystallography.

Now that they have this basic structure, they are hoping to use it to organize complex 3-D arrangements of these structures that would have useful applications. It may be useful as a scaffold for crystallizing proteins—an important tool in basic biomedical science. He also envisions applications in organic electronics where the DNA structures would be designed to organize nanoelectronic elements from the bottom up.

Related March Meeting Session

Gray arrow   Abstract: Q18.00010: DNA: Not Merely the Secret of Life

About APS

The American Physical Society is the leading professional organization of physicists, representing more than 48,000 physicists in academia and industry in the United States and internationally. APS has offices in College Park, MD (Headquarters), Ridge, NY, and Washington, D.C. 

About AIP

Headquartered in College Park, MD, the American Institute of Physics is a not-for-profit membership corporation chartered in New York State in 1931 for the purpose of promoting the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of physics and its application to human welfare.