Self-replication of information-bearing nanoscale patterns


DNA molecules provide what is probably the most iconic example of self-replication—the ability of a system to replicate, or make copies of, itself. In living cells the process is mediated by enzymes and occurs autonomously, with the number of replicas increasing exponentially over time without the need for external manipulation. Self-replication has also been implemented with synthetic systems, including RNA enzymes designed to undergo self-sustained exponential amplification1,2,3,4,5. An exciting next step would be to use self-replication in materials fabrication, which requires robust and general systems capable of copying and amplifying functional materials or structures. Here we report a first development in this direction, using DNA tile motifs that can recognize and bind complementary tiles in a pre-programmed fashion. We first design tile motifs so they form a seven-tile seed sequence; then use the seeds to instruct the formation of a first generation of complementary seven-tile daughter sequences; and finally use the daughters to instruct the formation of seven-tile granddaughter sequences that are identical to the initial seed sequences. Considering that DNA is a functional material that can organize itself and other molecules into useful structures6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13, our findings raise the tantalizing prospect that we may one day be able to realize self-replicating materials with various patterns or useful functions.

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Figure 1: DNA tile sequences and structures.
Figure 2: DNA seeds.
Figure 3: DNA generations.


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This work was partially supported by the W.M. Keck Foundation (P.M.C., D.J.P., N.C.S.), the National Science Foundation (MRSEC Program award DMR-0820341, P.M.C., D.J.P. and grants CTS-0608889 and CCF-0726378, to N.C.S.), NASA (NNX08AK04G, to P.M.C.), the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (grant GM-29554, to N.C.S.), the Army Research Office (grants 48681-EL and W911NF-07-1-0439, to N.C.S.), the Office of Naval Research (grants N000140910181 and N000140911118, to N.C.S.), the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (Rubicon grant, to M.E.L.) and DAAD (post-doctoral grant, to C.M.).

Author information




T.W., R.S. and C.M. designed experiments, performed experiments, analysed data and wrote the paper; R.D. analysed data and wrote the paper; M.E.L. initiated the project, analysed data and wrote the paper; D.J.P. and P.M.C. initiated and directed the project, analysed data and wrote the paper; N.C.S. initiated and directed the project, designed experiments, analysed data and wrote the paper.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Paul M. Chaikin or Nadrian C. Seeman.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Information 1-5 comprising (1) Sequences of bases for BTX Tiles; (2) Non-denaturing PAGE gels of BTX tiles; (3) Ferguson Plots, mobility vs gel concentration, for BTX tiles; (4) Protocol to produce the granddaughter molecule. (5) Statistics for producing seeds, daughters and granddaughters (see Contents for more details). (PDF 6729 kb)

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Wang, T., Sha, R., Dreyfus, R. et al. Self-replication of information-bearing nanoscale patterns. Nature 478, 225–228 (2011).

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