Engineers Have Invented a Programming Language to Build DNA

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Forget Python and Java. Ruby? Get outta here. If you're gonna learn to write code, you better make it useful—so why not one that builds DNA when you run it?

A team of researchers from the University of Washington has developed a programming language that allows them to code a set of instructions to build DNA molecules. The work builds on the concept of chemical reaction networks—a language of equations that describes how mixtures of chemicals behave—to create a language which allows them to program and direct the movement of tailor-made molecules.

The findings are published in Nature Nanotechnology. Georg Seelig, one of the researchers, explains:

“We start from an abstract, mathematical description of a chemical system, and then use DNA to build the molecules that realize the desired dynamics. The vision is that eventually, you can use this technology to build general-purpose tools.... If you want a computer to do something else, you just reprogram it. This project is very similar in that we can tell chemistry what to do.”


By creating a means of quickly, computationally coding up strings of prototype synthetic DNA, it could be possible to create and test all kinds of new drugs and treatments far quicker than ever before. The same tools could also be used to help create systems of molecules that self-assemble within cells and serve as “smart” sensors, programmed to detect abnormalities. Now, go see if Java can do that. [Nature Nanotechnology via University of Washington]

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