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February 14, 2017

Self-assembled random structures on surface of DNA tile arrays

A colored atomic force microscope image of self-assembled random tree structures on the surface of DNA tile arrays. Each tree has a single loop as the "root."

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Many self-organized systems in nature exploit a sophisticated blend of deterministic and random processes. For example, no two trees are exactly alike because growth is random, but a redwood can be readily distinguished from a Jacaranda as the two species follow different genetic programs. The value of randomness in biological organisms is not fully understood but it has been hypothesized that it allows for smaller genome sizes--because not every detail must be encoded. Randomness also provides the variation underlying adaptive evolution. In contrast to biology, engineering seldom takes advantage of the power of randomness for fabricating complex structures.

Now, researchers in the lab of assistant professor of bioengineering Lulu Qian at Caltech have demonstrated that randomness in molecular self-assembly can be combined with deterministic rules to produce complex nanostructures out of DNA.

The research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation (grants CCF 13-17694 and CCF 13-51081, a Faculty Early Career Development award).

To learn more, see the Caltech news story Programmable disorder. (Date image taken: November 2016; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: Feb. 14, 2017)

Credit: Caltech /Grigory Tikhomirov, Philip Petersen and Lulu Qian

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