We are collaborators in creation*…
Scientists have developed a way to carve shapes from DNA canvases, including all the letters of the Roman alphabet, emoticons and an eagle’s head.
Bryan Wei, a postdoctoral scholar at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and his colleagues make these shapes out of single strands of DNA just 42 letters long. Each strand is unique, and folds to form a rectangular tile. When mixed, neighbouring tiles stick to each other in a brick-wall pattern, and shorter boundary tiles lock the edges in place…
As CoDesign observes,
Creating a DNA alphabet was simply a vivid way for the scientists to demonstrate the flexibility and atomic-level accuracy of their system. But you don’t even need a PhD in order to use it, because they also created a graphical user interface that lets anyone with a mouse (and access to an atomic force microscope, the device that “draws” the DNA) sketch out the shape they want without mucking around with code or technical specs.
Still, the DNAlphabet could actually have intriguing applications of its own. Security-minded (or just plain egomaniacal) researchers could use these microscopic structures to watermark their synthetic-biological products, just like that scene in Blade Runner. Even cooler: “One can imagine we can use the shapes as invisible ink in a secret-agent way,” says Wei. “High density information can be delivered in a test tube or simply as powder.”
* “Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
As we reach for the tweezers, we might recall that it was on this date that Marie Skłodowska-Curie (AKA Madame Curie) went before the examination committee at the University of Paris for her PhD. She was awarded the degree… and later that year, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for her work on “radioactivity” (a term she coined). She became the first female professor at the University, and went on to win another Nobel (the second, in Chemistry)– the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to date to win in two fields, and the only person to win in multiple sciences… on the basis of which, in 1995, she became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon.
Her work was central to a wave of research that enabled the development of x-ray crystallography, the tool used by Rosalind Franklin in making critical contributions to the project that unravelled the fine molecular structures of DNA (for which Crick, Watson, and Wilkins won the Nobel Prize).