Who says science and art need to be opposites? There’s plenty of room for overlap in the two fields, and why shouldn’t they be — they’re both creative pursuits. And, when it comes to this latest science/art merger, there’s really no better word than “creative.” The only other phrase that comes to mind is “this is amazing but humans are getting too goddamn smart for their own good.”
Scientists at Caltech have just recreated a tiny version of Van Gogh’s Starry Night by folding DNA molecules. The creation marks the first time this technique, known as “DNA origami,” has successfully scaled up to build large number of DNA-based devices on computer chips. The Caltech team published their findings in Nature.
The “origami” name may make this work sound artsy, but there are real scientific implications for DNA origami, and it’s part of broader conversation that believes molecules to be “the devices of the future”—as Caltech’s Paul Rothemund told Gizmodo. “But how do you connect them? How do you wire them up into larger circuits? How do you do anything with them? You need an interface between the molecular and the macroscopic world, and that’s what this is.”
Rothemund co-authored the Nature article and is regarded as a DNA origami pioneer. He’s been folding DNA into interesting shapes for a decade now, and his minuscule artwork—which has included smiley faces (see above), snowflakes, and a map of the Western hemisphere—was displayed at New York’s MoMA in 2008.
The methodology behind DNA origami is, of course, incredibly complex. But, in short, Rothemund and Caltech postdoc Ashwin Gopinath developed a way of folding DNA and then tuned injected fluorescent molecules to specific wavelengths, leading to patterns of “hot” and “cold” spots that can be fashioned into images. Gopinath had just watched the “Vincent and the Doctor” episode of Dr. Who and was inspired to design the test around an image of Starry Night—knowing that successfully capturing the painting’s complexity would assuredly demonstrate DNA origami’s power and potential. And voila! Here we have it.
DNA origami may have resulted in the most impressive recreation of Van Gogh’s masterpiece thus far, but it is one of several similar recent pursuits, like this rendering of Starry Night in a bowl of water, and this one that uses a handful of bacteria-infested petri dishes. Which one do you like most? Let us know in the comments.
Images: P. Rothemund et al./Caltech