Scientists have developed a new way of making 3-D nanostructures from DNA using a method similar to 3-D printing. 

The new technique will allow scientists to synthesize 3-D DNA origami structures that can tolerate low salt concentrations within the body, Karolinska Institutet reported. The design process is also highly automated, which means extremely complicated synthetic DNA nanostructures can be generated.

In the breakthrough method the user can create their desired structure using 3-D software normally used for computer-aided design or animation. The program then uses graph-theoretic algorithms and optimization techniques to to calculate the DNA sequences required to produce the structure. When these DNA sequences are synthesized in a salt solution, they assemble themselves into the desired structure.

"This new method makes it very easy to design DNA nanostructures and gives more design freedom," said study leader Björn Högberg from the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics at Karolinska Institutet. "We can now make structures that were impossible to design previously and we can do it in the same way as one might draw a 3D structure for printing out in macroscopic scale, but instead of making it out of plastic, we print it in DNA at the nanoscale."

The researchers have already used this technique to create a ball, spiral, rod, bottle-shaped structure, and even a DNA printout of the Stanford Bunny.

"An advantage of the automated design process is that one can now deal systematically with even quite complex structures. Advanced computing methods are likely to be a key enabler in the scaling of DNA nanotechnology from fundamental studies towards groundbreaking applications," said Professor Pekka Orponen, who directed the team at the Aalto University Computer Science Department.

There are numerous potential applications for this new technique, such as helping scientists study cell signaling, and creating targeted capsules to deliver drugs to straight to the source of cancers.

The findings were published in a recent edition of the journal Nature.