Researchers got a step closer to using DNA as a programmable material platform that could help create nanodevices in fields such as computer science, microscopy and biology.

A research team created 32 DNA crystals with "precisely-defined depth and an assortment of sophisticated three-dimensional (3-D) features," Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering reported. These new periodic crystal structures are close in size to a speck of dust, much larger than than those presented in a Science publication back in 2012.

"We are very pleased that our DNA brick approach has solved this challenge and we were actually surprised by how well it works," said senior author and Wyss Institute Core Faculty member Peng Yin, who is also an associate professor of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School.

The more complex the self-assembly method of these DNA structures the higher the risk of error. This new DNA brick method uses short, synthetic strands of DNA that is comparable to interlocking Lego bricks. The design is first created using a computer model of a molecular cube, which is referred to as the "master canvas."

"Therein lies the key distinguishing feature of our design strategy - its modularity," said co-lead author Yonggang Ke, formerly a Wyss Institute Postdoctoral Fellow and now an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University. "The ability to simply add or remove pieces from the master canvas makes it easy to create virtually any design."

This study marks the first time researchers have been able to rationally design crystal depth with nanometer precision.

"DNA crystals are attractive for nanotechnology applications because they are comprised of repeating structural units that provide an ideal template for scalable design features," said co-lead author graduate student Luvena Ong.

In the groundbreaking study the team also demonstrated the ability to position gold nanoparticles into 2-D architecture less than two nanometers apart along a crystal structure, which could help in the innovation of future quantum devices.

"My preconceived notions of the limitations of DNA have been consistently shattered by our new advances in DNA nanotechnology," said William Shih, who is co-author of the study and a Wyss Institute Founding Core Faculty member, as well as Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Harvard Medical School and the Department of Cancer Biology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. "DNA nanotechnology now makes it possible for us to assemble, in a programmable way, prescribed structures rivaling the complexity of many molecular machines we see in Nature."

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