MIT invents software for building DNA structures

A select few scientists have dazzled their peers by using DNA to build two-dimensional and complex three-dimensional structures that hold lots of promise in the fields of medicine and synthetic biology. Now there are efforts to develop software to automate the tricky process of designing the "DNA origami" structures, potentially leading to tools that can enable many scientists to master this technique.

MIT biological engineer Mark Bathe has developed predictive engineering software called "CanDo," which makes it easier to predict a 3D shape that could result from a piece of DNA, MIT News reported. The software doesn't completely automate the design of the DNA structures, but it does help scientists get an idea of the flexibility of the structures and how well the structures are able to hold together in their intended shapes under certain conditions. This software, which was described in a Feb. 25 issue of the journal Nature Methods, appears to be a step toward making DNA origami a more widely accessible technology for lots of labs.

While the genome is a vast 3 billion base pairs and notoriously complex, the basic building blocks of DNA are combinations of just four nucleotide bases-adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C). This enables some scientists to program these DNA bases into certain shapes. Scientists at Caltech and Harvard Medical School have been pioneering such techniques. And the DNA structures hold promise to serve as biosensors, drug-delivery vehicles, and tools for artificial photosynthesis. Still, there are only a handful of scientists who know how to build such DNA structures, limiting the technology's use, according to MIT's Bathe.

"Once non-specialists can design arbitrary 3-D nanostructures using DNA origami," Bathe told MIT News, "their imaginations can run free."

- here's the story from MIT News

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