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DNA Origami

Wyss scientists use programmable self-assembly to create intricate nanostructures, including square-toothed gears, out of strands of DNA.

Wyss Institute researchers are at the forefront of work in DNA Origami, a technique for folding pieces of DNA into shapes that may one day prove useful in manufacturing and medicine. The hope is that these incredibly tiny forms could carry cancer drugs deep inside the body or work as cogs in a molecular machine.

Recent advances by Wyss scientists include the formation of three-dimensional shapes, such as an icosahedron, and of twisted and curved shapes. It’s not yet clear which of these shapes will be most useful, but by developing expertise in shape creation and variety, scientists believe they will be able to make the best use of the technique.

The researchers’ short-term goal is to make increasingly complex shapes, improve their fabrication methods, and develop new applications for their nanoscale parts.

Long-term, Wyss Faculty Member William Shih recently told MSNBC. "We'd like to be able to approach the efficiency with which viruses deliver their cargo to cells, but do it in a safer way."


Read more about the Wyss' work with DNA Origami

  • Yin P et al, Programming biomolecular self-assembly pathways, Nature 451, 318–323, 2008.
  • Douglas SM et al, Self-assembly of DNA into nanoscale three-dimensional shapes, Nature 459, 414–418, 2009.


Further Explorations:

Follow the links provided below to learn more about scientific applications inspired by the Japanese art of Origami.

DNA Origami:

  • caDNAno is open-source software for the design of three-dimensional DNA origami nanostructures. 

  • Paul Rothemund, a Senior Research Associate in Computer Science, Bioengineering, Computation and Neural Systems at Caltech, is a leader in DNA Origami research.

DNA nanotechnology: 

  • Ned Seeman, a Professor in the Department of Chemistry at New York University, investigates unusual DNA molecules in model systems that use synthetic molecules.
  • Nature Nanotechnology wrote a special Focus section on the topic in April, 2009

Origami as a field of mathematical study:

  • Erik Demaine, an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, who is interested in efficient algorithms for characterizing foldability, and in finding efficient folding processes, or in proving that such algorithms are impossible.
  • Robert Lang, who helped establish the role of origami in science, math and technology.


Wyss Faculty and researchers involved in DNA Origami:

William Shih, Ph.D., a Wyss Core Faculty Member and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Harvard Medical School, and Department of Cancer Biology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, is widely recognized as a pioneer in the field of DNA origami.

Peng Yin, Ph.D., a Wyss Core Faculty Member and Assistant Professor in the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, uses DNA origami techniques to probe and program biological processes for imaging and therapeutic applications.

• Shawn Douglas, Ph.D., a Wyss Technology Development Fellow, has been deeply involved in the work and led the development of caDNAno, an open-source computer-aided design software that aids in the design of 3D shapes for DNA.

Interactive feature

Molecular Origami
See what shapes you can make by folding a virtual strand of RNA or DNA.


Select media coverage:

Popular Science
Scientists program DNA to fold in tightly controlled curves and circles—an important step toward building larger nanomachines.



Wall Street Journal
Gene Expression: Origami at the Molecular Level



We've won a Webby Award!

Wyss Institute is proud to announce our win in the 2012
Webby Awards in the Science category.