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Molecular biology provides an inspiring proof-of-principle that chemical systems can store and process information to direct molecular activities such as the fabrication of complex structures from molecular components. To develop information-based chemistry as a technology for programming matter to function in ways not seen in biological systems, it is necessary to understand how molecular interactions can encode and execute algorithms. The self-assembly of relatively simple units into complex products1 is particularly well suited for such investigations. Theory that combines mathematical tiling and statistical-mechanical models of molecular crystallization has shown that algorithmic behaviour can be embedded within molecular self-assembly processes2,3, and this has been experimentally demonstrated using DNA nanotechnology4 with up to 22 tile types5-11. However, many information technologies exhibit a complexity threshold-such as the minimum transistor count needed for a general-purpose computer-beyond which the power of a reprogrammable system increases qualitatively, and it has been unclear whether the biophysics of DNA self-assembly allows that threshold to be exceeded. Here we report the design and experimental validation of a DNA tile set that contains 355 single-stranded tiles and can, through simple tile selection, be reprogrammed to implement a wide variety of 6-bit algorithms. We use this set to construct 21 circuits that execute algorithms including copying, sorting, recognizing palindromes and multiples of 3, random walking, obtaining an unbiased choice from a biased random source, electing a leader, simulating cellular automata, generating deterministic and randomized patterns, and counting to 63, with an overall per-tile error rate of less than 1 in 3,000. These findings suggest that molecular self-assembly could be a reliable algorithmic component within programmable chemical systems. The development of molecular machines that are reprogrammable-at a high level of abstraction and thus without requiring knowledge of the underlying physics-will establish a creative space in which molecular programmers can flourish.

Original publication

DOI

10.1038/s41586-019-1014-9

Type

Journal article

Journal

Nature

Publication Date

03/2019

Volume

567

Pages

366 - 372