Day 7

June 30, 2010 in day#7, Uncategorized by Isabel Gold

DNA: They are the building blocks to all life.

These miniscule, ancient nucleic acids have perfected their technique of constructing us for millions and millions of years – it only makes sense that they would become the absolute blocks for all constructs.

As opposed to proteins, sugars, and lipids, nucleic acids are programmable, cheap, simple, and because of their helix structure, sturdy. They create the dream material!

YouTube Preview Image

This is an eerie animation of M.C. Escher’s Depth, whose fish happen to fly in a six-arm (or rather, wing) junction.

But this ingenious revelation is not a secret. People like Nadrian Seeman, who was inspired by a wood-cut of M.C Escher  to make three-dimensional latices of DNA and has successfully made an octahedron, and Paul Rothemund, who is beginning to program the nucleic acids to build in a certain pattern and tell them when to stop in a method he compares to the modern spell, are almost on their way to cracking the code of DNA as an everyday material.

The functions will be astounding, but for now, in order to reach the time when nucleic acids are ordinary, us budding scientists must learn to appreciate the essence of the concept rather than be focused on the technicality.

Paul Rothemund agrees with our lecturers: “There is an art and an aesthetics in picking what question to ask, what tools to use to answer those questions, and especially in how one later visualizes and explains the answers,” said Rothemund in an article of Scientific American.

This sort of thinking is essential in our project, where the technology for creating our dream-device is so far away, we must focus only on the essence and not the methodological, specific elements of the design.

His and Seeman’s work exemplifies the product of an artistic mindset in scientific function. At the moment, Rothemund’s smiley faces and Seeman’s octahedrons don’t answer all of our problems, but the idea of being able to manipulate acids to do complicated functions opens so many doors.

With the mere notion 50 billion smiles in one drop of water, excitement and awe of the scientific advances become universal. One man we were introduced to, Graeme Jones, is determined to spread public science, and transform the formerly intimidating concepts to become accessible to, well, anyone. His latest project, Carbon Rapture, makes models of certain molecules like diamond, buckyballs, etc.

Concepts like public science are essential to the overall support and enthusiasm of the people to push a technology further. If the technology is considered unnecessary, the discovery soon fades into oblivion – much like the electron microscoping that existed far before the turn of the century but only now is being further developed.