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Hierarchical self-assembly of DNA into symmetric supramolecular polyhedra


DNA is renowned for its double helix structure and the base pairing that enables the recognition and highly selective binding of complementary DNA strands. These features, and the ability to create DNA strands with any desired sequence of bases, have led to the use of DNA rationally to design various nanostructures and even execute molecular computations1,2,3,4. Of the wide range of self-assembled DNA nanostructures reported, most are one- or two-dimensional5,6,7,8,9. Examples of three-dimensional DNA structures include cubes10, truncated octahedra11, octohedra12 and tetrahedra13,14, which are all comprised of many different DNA strands with unique sequences. When aiming for large structures, the need to synthesize large numbers (hundreds) of unique DNA strands poses a challenging design problem9,15. Here, we demonstrate a simple solution to this problem: the design of basic DNA building units in such a way that many copies of identical units assemble into larger three-dimensional structures. We test this hierarchical self-assembly concept with DNA molecules that form three-point-star motifs, or tiles. By controlling the flexibility and concentration of the tiles, the one-pot assembly yields tetrahedra, dodecahedra or buckyballs that are tens of nanometres in size and comprised of four, twenty or sixty individual tiles, respectively. We expect that our assembly strategy can be adapted to allow the fabrication of a range of relatively complex three-dimensional structures.

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Figure 1: Self-assembly of DNA polyhedra.
Figure 2: Characterization of the DNA tetrahedron by DLS, AFM and Cryo-EM.
Figure 3: A DNA dodecahedron.
Figure 4: A DNA buckyball.


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We thank H. Liu for help with the initial DLS experiment. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation. AFM and DLS studies were carried out in the Purdue Laboratory for Chemical Nanotechnology (PLCN). The cryo-EM images were taken in the Purdue Biological Electron Microscopy Facility and the Purdue Rosen Center for Advanced Computing (RCAC) provided the computational resource for the 3D reconstructions.

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Correspondence to Chengde Mao.

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Supplementary Information

The file contains Supplementary Figures S1-S10 with Legends. The Supplementary Figures S1-S2 illustrate electrophoretic analysis of the DNA polyhedra; the Supplementary Figures S3-S10 show supplementary information for cryo-EM imaging and 3D single particle reconstructions of the DNA polyhedra. (PDF 3046 kb)

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He, Y., Ye, T., Su, M. et al. Hierarchical self-assembly of DNA into symmetric supramolecular polyhedra. Nature 452, 198–201 (2008).

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