Designing DNA robots in minutes

New software can design much more complex DNA robots and nanodevices in a fraction of the time

June 29, 2021
The Scitech

This "airplane," made of strands of DNA, is 1000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

Researchers developed a new tool that can design much more complex DNA robots and nanodevices than were ever possible before in a fraction of the time. In a paper published in the journal Nature Materials, researchers from The Ohio State University – led by former engineering doctoral student Chao-Min Huang – unveiled new software they call MagicDNA.

The software helps researchers design ways to take tiny strands of DNA and combine them into complex structures with parts like rotors and hinges that can move and complete a variety of tasks, including drug delivery. Researchers have been doing this for a number of years with slower tools with tedious manual steps, said Carlos Castro, co-author of the study and associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Ohio State. “But now, nanodevices that may have taken us several days to design before now take us just a few minutes,” Castro said. And now researchers can make much more complex – and useful – nanodevices.

The software has a variety of advantages that will help scientists design better, more helpful nanodevices and – researchers hope – shorten the time before they are in everyday use. One advantage is that it allows researchers to carry out the entire design truly in 3D. Earlier design tools only allowed creation in 2D, forcing researchers to map their creations into 3D. That meant designers couldn’t make their devices too complex. The software also allows designers to build DNA structures “bottom up” or “top down.” In “bottom up” design, researchers take individual strands of DNA and decide how to organize them into the structure they want, which allows fine control over local device structure and properties. But they can also take a “top down” approach where they decide how their overall device needs to be shaped geometrically and then automate how the DNA strands are put together. Combining the two allows for increasing complexity of the overall geometry while maintaining precise control over individual component properties, Castro said. Another key element of the software is that it allows simulations of how designed DNA devices would move and operate in the real world. The ability to make more complex nanodevices means that they can do more useful things and even carry out multiple tasks with one device, Castro said.

Source: The Ohio State University news release