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The latest DNA nanodevices created at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) -- including a robot with movable arms, a book that opens and closes, a switchable gear, and an actuator -- may be intriguing in their own right, but that's not the point. They demonstrate a breakthrough in the science of using DNA as a programmable building material for nanometer-scale structures and machines. Results published in the journal Science reveal a new approach to joining -- and reconfiguring -- modular 3D building units, by snapping together complementary shapes instead of zipping together strings of base pairs. This not only opens the way for practical nanomachines with moving parts, but also offers a toolkit that makes it easier to program their self-assembly.

The field popularly known as "DNA origami," in reference to the traditional Japanese art of paper folding, is advancing quickly toward practical applications, according to TUM Prof. Hendrik Dietz. Earlier this month, Dietz was awarded Germany's most important research award, the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, for his role in this progress.

In recent years, Dietz and his team have been responsible for major steps in the direction of applications: experimental devices including a synthetic membrane channel made from DNA; discoveries that cut the time needed for self-assembly processes from a week to a few hours and enable yields approaching 100%; proof that extremely complex structures can be assembled, as designed, with subnanometer precision.

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