Three Harvard Medical School students–Peng Yin, Bryan Wei, and Mingjie Dai–created the font, nicknamed DNA Sans, by using DNA “tiles.” These tiles, like tiny canvases, allow each single strand of DNA to fold into a rectangular tile. When the tiles are mixed together, they stick to each other and form something that resembles a miniature brick wall.
So how does a tiny brick wall make all the shapes needed for a font? As a wall, the tiles are pretty tiny–each is around 64-by-103 nanometers in size. The team discovered that it could make complex shapes by simply leaving out specific tiles. From there, the researchers made 107 two-dimensional shapes comprising of numbers, letters, Chinese characters, symbols, and random objects, like an eagle’s head and smiley face. They were also able to make different sized tiles using this method.
The tile project proved that you don’t need long scaffolds to create DNA structures. Previous work required scaffolds for the structure to retain its shape, because new sets of strands were needed for each structure. With the tiles technique, you can use the same set repeatedly, due to the way tiles are left out–you just need to pick molecules carefully. The team created a robot to perform this task–the bot can pick the tiles and mix the required strands for each shape.
It’s pretty fascinating stuff, really. Of course, you won’t be seeing DNA Sans in the next edition of Microsoft Word, but it will be interesting to see how else the trio’s technique can be used.