The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Arizona State University have designed a computer program that can print any free-form drawing as a 2D nanoscale structure made of DNA.
At the nanoscale level, precise organisation of biological and non-biological materials -- such as using DNA origami through this program -- offers improved precision and higher resolution. This potentially provides users an unprecedented capability to create nanostructures that are fully customisable with nanometre precision.
The ability to create such structures was previously not accessible for many people due to it historically being an arduous and technically complex process.
The program's development began in 2016, when MIT initially developed a way to automate the process of generating a 3D polyhedral DNA structure. This was then followed by the current study which designed a program that automates the creation of 2D DNA structures.
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According to MIT's paper, this was achieved by creating an algorithm that "uses wireframe edges consisting of two parallel DNA duplexes and enables the full autonomy of scaffold routing and staple sequence design with arbitrary network lengths and vertex angles."
The resulting computer program, MIT says, will allow anyone to create DNA nanostructures of any shape. The shapes can be sketched in any computer drawing program and only needs to be converted into a CAD file before it can be fed into the DNA design program.
"The fact that we can design and fabricate these in a very simple way helps to solve a major bottleneck in our field," Associate professor of biological engineering at MIT Mark Bathe said.
"Now the field can transition toward much broader groups of people in industry and academia being able to functionalize DNA structures and deploy them for diverse applications."
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As researchers have such precise control over the structure of the synthetic DNA particles, they can attach a variety of other molecules at specific locations.
One such application that MIT suggested for this new program was designing light-harvesting circuits that mimic the photosynthetic complexes found in plants.
To achieve that, the researchers are attaching light-sensitive dyes known as chromophores to DNA scaffolds. In addition to harvesting light, such circuits could also be used to perform quantum sensing and rudimentary computations. If successful, these would be the first quantum computing circuits that can operate at room temperature, Bathe says.
MIT in September also announced research that two machine learning networks learnt from each other to improve speech processing via image recognition.
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