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DNA would appear to be the best option for guiding the assembly of the nanoparticle bricks into the desired construction. DNA strands can be attached to the nanoparticles, with sequences programmed to zip up with complementary DNA strands on a neighboring particle.
Using a single DNA linker sequence results in a close-packed, face-centered cubic crystal structure. But using two different linker sequences that bind to each other but not themselves gives a binary system, which crystallizes in an open, body-centered cubic structure.
“We are now closer to the dream of learning, as nanoscientists, how to break everything down into fundamental building blocks and reassemble them into whatever structure we want,” says Mirkin.
Using a similar method, researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) have further investigated the interactions between complementary DNA-functionalized nanoparticles [Nykypanchuk et al., Nature (2008) 451, 549].
Mirkin says that he and his team are just getting started. "To me, it's really only the start rather than the ending," he says. Over the past three years, Mirkin's group has been demonstrating methods to place different DNA linkers on different faces of nonspherical particles, such as triangle-faced prisms and virus particles. That, he says, should enable programming of more complex materials with repeating patterns of three or more components. "The really intriguing possibility here is the ability to program the formation of any structure you want," says Mirkin.