Researchers Create Transforming DNA-Based Gel That Remembers Its Shape, Returns To It
A team of researchers at Cornell University have created a gel built from synthetic DNA that remembers its own shape, and can return to that form after being reduced to a free-flowing, formless goo. Researchers are studying the gel to learn more about its potential as a drug delivery system, which, to our minds, really sells short its obvious future making those little sponge dinosaurs totally obsolete and replacing them with staggeringly detailed hydrogel statues. Get on it, science!
This hydrogel does act something like a high-tech sponge, woven from organic molecules. Like a sponge, though, the molecules that make up the gel are only half the story — the real work is done in the empty space between those molecules, which can absorb liquids and hold them. In particular, this gel was created by mixing synthetic DNA with enzymes that promote DNA replication.
The result — to the surprise of researchers on the project — was a gel thats seemed to somehow remember its own shape. When the gel is immersed in water, it holds the shape of the mold it was formed in. When its taken out of water, the gel droops into a formless mass.
The team is unsure what the mechanism behind the gel’s strange properties is so far, but they’re looking into it, naturally. The working theory seems to be that surface tension in the shaped gel is weak enough that outside of water, gravity overcomes it. When the gel is placed in water, though, buoyancy beats gravity and lets the gel keep its shape.