Nucleic acid nanotechnology is an incredibly versatile platform for constructing rationally-designed molecular systems. Much of the current attention is focussed on self-assembling structures that are designed to reach a static equilibrium, or computational architectures that compute a single function by relaxing to equilibrium.
One of the signature features of living systems, however, is that they operate continuously rather than relaxing to equilibrium. The circuits built by synthetic biologists from re-purposed cellular components reflect this principle. Components are continuously produced and degraded, and the system is dynamically responsive to a changing environment. Feedback control architectures, which reject external perturbations to maintain certain properties of key molecular species, are a particularly elegant example.
Other researchers seek to mimic specific functions of living systems – such as replication, or cellular division – using de novo chemical designs. In doing so, they grapple with the challenges of designing and controlling far-from equilibrium systems with innovative chemical motifs.
We are gathering researchers with expertise across these disciplines for a workshop to discuss how nucleic acid engineering can be made more lifelike. In doing so, we hope to explore how nucleic acid nanotechnology can be applied more broadly to synthetic biology and the engineering of minimal life-like systems.