Veronique Greenwood in Seed:
A smiley face glowed on the March 16, 2006, cover of Nature. “DNA Origami,” read the headline. “Nanoscale Shapes the Easy Way.” Inside, a relatively brief, single-author paper outlined a method for designing shapes made from DNA that would fold up on their own. The smiling prototype and the playful cover line may have been cute. But the changes the paper brought to a number of far-flung fields were nothing short of profound: Tiny, self-assembling structures, with applications in everything from biology to chip design, were now within our grasp.
Three years later, the research sparked by this breakthrough has just begun to bear fruit, as evidenced by a flurry of papers this summer. Caltech’s Paul Rothemund, the author of the Nature paper, and his collaborators at IBM published a way to fasten DNA origami to microchip materials. William Shih at Harvard led a team that developed three-dimensional shapes and curving structures, among many refinements to the technique. And Jørgen Kjems of Denmark’s Aarhus University published a method to build miniature boxes, equipped with multiple locks and molecules that glow red and green. As it turned out, everyone from cell biologists to drug delivery experts to materials scientists had been looking for just such a way to build.