In an attempt to better understand and improve the mechanism of building structures on the tiniest scales, Harvard scientists constructed a small DNA “LEGO bricks” spacecraft.
A study describing the experiment in details was published in the November 29 issue of the journal Science.
It suggests that the technique could be implemented in the development of future computer circuits or used in the construction of small medical machines to place medication inside the human body.
“Personally, I am enthusiastic about the potential application of DNA nanotechnology to make intelligent drug-delivery vehicles and to arrange and wire molecular electronic components,” said Kurt Gothelf, director of the Center for DNA Nanotechnology at Aarhus University, Denmark
A single DNA strand can be translated into “LEGO bricks” that can be shaped in 102 different objects. Scientists played with the forms and built honeycombs, shuttles, and even English numbers and letters, Space reports.
“Once we know how to compile the correct code of complex shapes and add it to the synthetic DNA strands, everything else is simple and natural,” explained Yonggang Ke, a Harvard University chemist, as cited by Space.
“Those DNA strands are like smart LEGO bricks that know exactly where to go by themselves.”
Besides the practical implications of the study, there is a larger subject of interest it covers: the process of life on Earth creating itself through massive molecular adherence.
“All life forms on earth are self-assembled, in an environment of an enormous amount of small molecules and macromolecules, such as DNA, RNA and proteins — much, much messier than our small DNA ‘soup’ in a test tube,” said Prof. Ke.
The DNA bricks anthropic construction is essentially nothing but a simulation of how nature works from immemorial times. Even so, the project's success was surprising for many people who saw it as doubtfully possible.
As Prof. Ke declared, despite today's evolution and technology, humanity is “still playing catch-up with nature.”