Self-assembly of three-dimensional prestressed tensegrity structures from DNA

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Tensegrity, or tensional integrity, is a property of a structure indicating a reliance on a balance between components that are either in pure compression or pure tension for stability1,2. Tensegrity structures exhibit extremely high strength-to-weight ratios and great resilience, and are therefore widely used in engineering, robotics and architecture3,4. Here, we report nanoscale, prestressed, three-dimensional tensegrity structures in which rigid bundles of DNA double helices resist compressive forces exerted by segments of single-stranded DNA that act as tension-bearing cables. Our DNA tensegrity structures can self-assemble against forces up to 14 pN, which is twice the stall force of powerful molecular motors such as kinesin or myosin5,6. The forces generated by this molecular prestressing mechanism can be used to bend the DNA bundles or to actuate the entire structure through enzymatic cleavage at specific sites. In addition to being building blocks for nanostructures, tensile structural elements made of single-stranded DNA could be used to study molecular forces, cellular mechanotransduction and other fundamental biological processes.

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Figure 1: Three-dimensional prestressed DNA tensegrity.
Figure 2: DNA tensegrity-structure kite.
Figure 3: Force generation with DNA tensegrity objects.


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The authors thank O. Hallatschek, R. Neher, H. Dietz and S. Douglas for helpful discussions and advice. This work was funded by the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, and Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD; T.L.), Swedish Science Council (Vetenskapsrådet) Fellowship (B.H.) and Claudia Adams Barr Program Investigator and NIH New Innovator (1DP2OD004641-01; W.M.S.) grants.

Author information

T.L., D.E.I. and W.M.S. conceived and designed the research. T.L. designed the DNA shapes. T.L., B.H. and J.T. performed the experiments. T.L. and B.H. analysed the data, and T.L., B.H., D.E.I. and W.M.S. co-wrote the paper.

Correspondence to William M. Shih.

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