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Beyond Watson and Crick: Programming the Self-Assembly and Reconfiguration of DNA Nanostructures Based on Stacking Interactions


Woo, Sungwook (2013) Beyond Watson and Crick: Programming the Self-Assembly and Reconfiguration of DNA Nanostructures Based on Stacking Interactions. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/4NZK-XK58.


Life is the result of the execution of molecular programs: like how an embryo is fated to become a human or a whale, or how a person’s appearance is inherited from their parents, many biological phenomena are governed by genetic programs written in DNA molecules. At the core of such programs is the highly reliable base pairing interaction between nucleic acids. DNA nanotechnology exploits the programming power of DNA to build artificial nanostructures, molecular computers, and nanomachines. In particular, DNA origami—which is a simple yet versatile technique that allows one to create various nanoscale shapes and patterns—is at the heart of the technology. In this thesis, I describe the development of programmable self-assembly and reconfiguration of DNA origami nanostructures based on a unique strategy: rather than relying on Watson-Crick base pairing, we developed programmable bonds via the geometric arrangement of stacking interactions, which we termed stacking bonds. We further demonstrated that such bonds can be dynamically reconfigurable.

The first part of this thesis describes the design and implementation of stacking bonds. Our work addresses the fundamental question of whether one can create diverse bond types out of a single kind of attractive interaction—a question first posed implicitly by Francis Crick while seeking a deeper understanding of the origin of life and primitive genetic code. For the creation of multiple specific bonds, we used two different approaches: binary coding and shape coding of geometric arrangement of stacking interaction units, which are called blunt ends. To construct a bond space for each approach, we performed a systematic search using a computer algorithm. We used orthogonal bonds to experimentally implement the connection of five distinct DNA origami nanostructures. We also programmed the bonds to control cis/trans configuration between asymmetric nanostructures.

The second part of this thesis describes the large-scale self-assembly of DNA origami into two-dimensional checkerboard-pattern crystals via surface diffusion. We developed a protocol where the diffusion of DNA origami occurs on a substrate and is dynamically controlled by changing the cationic condition of the system. We used stacking interactions to mediate connections between the origami, because of their potential for reconfiguring during the assembly process. Assembling DNA nanostructures directly on substrate surfaces can benefit nano/microfabrication processes by eliminating a pattern transfer step. At the same time, the use of DNA origami allows high complexity and unique addressability with six-nanometer resolution within each structural unit.

The third part of this thesis describes the use of stacking bonds as dynamically breakable bonds. To break the bonds, we used biological machinery called the ParMRC system extracted from bacteria. The system ensures that, when a cell divides, each daughter cell gets one copy of the cell’s DNA by actively pushing each copy to the opposite poles of the cell. We demonstrate dynamically expandable nanostructures, which makes stacking bonds a promising candidate for reconfigurable connectors for nanoscale machine parts.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:DNA Nanotechnology;self-assembly;base stacking;nano machines;ParMRC;plasmid segregation;crystallization;surface diffusion;binary coding;shape coding;molecular recognition;DNA nanostructures;DNA origami;stacking bonds;programmable self-assembly;DNA-protein hybrid nanostructures;ParM filaments;hierarchical self-assembly
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Bioengineering
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Rothemund, Paul W. K.
Thesis Committee:
  • Winfree, Erik (chair)
  • Rothemund, Paul W. K.
  • Pierce, Niles A.
  • Tirrell, David A.
  • Fygenson, Deborah K.
  • Andersen, Ebbe S.
Defense Date:23 May 2013
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:05302013-123041371
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:7772
Deposited By: Sungwook Woo
Deposited On:03 Jun 2013 22:26
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 00:01

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