Posted: January 28, 2010

Wyss Institute launches 'molecular origami' interactive feature

(Nanowerk News) Molecular Origami is a process that allows researchers to build nano-sized structures out of DNA (or RNA). To help illustrate the basics of DNA origami, Harvard’s Wyss Institute has created a Flash-based interactive feature that allows users to build virtual nanostructures by sequencing a simple, abstract representation of a DNA molecule and then allowing it to self assemble. Users can build structures of their own design – the dynamic nature of the feature allows for an endless number of design possibilities – or they can build and modify pre-set shapes.
Everyone knows the purpose of DNA, and that is to carry the genetic information for all life on earth -- the function it has been performing for billions of years. But over the past three decades researchers have explored the use of DNA for a whole new purpose: as a building material. This new process is called DNA origami because a long strand of DNA is programmed to fold in on itself to create pre-designed shapes, much like a single sheet of paper is folded to create a variety of designs in the traditional Japanese art.
Scientists at the Wyss Institute, led by Core Faculty members, William Shih and Peng Yin, have extended this work toward building complex, three-dimensional structures out of DNA. This work could lead to breakthroughs in manufacturing and medicine. For example, these incredibly tiny forms could be used as cogs in a machine for molecular manufacturing, optical reporters for bioimaging, or carriers for delivery of cancer drugs deep inside the body.
With DNA origami, researchers take a long, single strand of DNA (called a scaffold) and fold it into a structure of their own design. These designs are held together with short "staple" strands, which are also made of DNA. Each staple is coded with two specific sequences: one is the complement to a specific site on the scaffold; the other is the complement to a second location on the same scaffold. When the scaffold and staples are allowed to "self-assemble," the attachment of the staple strands causes the scaffold to bend and fold into the desired structure. In principle, the same approach could be used with RNA or any other informational molecule where complementary sequences can be engineered.
This interactive feature, created by the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard, is designed to illustrate the basics of molecular folding in a fun way. So drag and drop the pairs of staples and see how the altering sequences you select can produce virtually any shape you desire, as well as forms that might surprise you.
Source: Wyss Institute