A team of researchers from Harvard's Wyss Institute have created self-assembling 3D nanobricks out of DNA โ€” essentially inventing a nanoscale version of Lego โ€” that can be used to build thousands of different objects.

What the research team has done is create a very short DNA "brick" of a single strand with 32 nucleotides, that will connect with other bricks, but only at a 90ยฐ angle. A 10x10x10 structure of these bricks was created by giving each a unique DNA sequence that would only fit in one place, leading to a self-assembling cube of 1000 DNA voxels.

By withholding certain bricks during the assembly phase, the team were able to construct more than 100 shapes that you can see above, and there are possibilities for thousands more.

This same team made news earlier this year with a 2D version of the same concept, but the new technology allows for far more complex shapes. The 90ยฐ angles they've shown off here are only the beginning. Hexagonal lattices are also possible, which raises the possibilities of tubes.

But what can you use this technology for, apart from building the world's smallest Lego spaceship? It turns out that being able to create shapes on such a tiny scale is incredibly useful. In the paper, they explain it can be used to:

arrange technologically relevant guest molecules into functional devices, to serve as programmable molecular probes and instruments for biological studies, to render spatial control for biosynthesis of use- ful products, to function as smart drug delivery particles, and to enable high-throughput nanofabrication of complex inorganic materials for electronics or photonics applications


In other words, build just about anything. Just like Lego.

Image: 3D models and 2D photos of the nanostructures. Credit: Yonggang Ke, Wyss Institute, Harvard University