The Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci is arguably the most recognizable piece of art in the world and now scientists at Caltech have recreated it using DNA so that it’s the same size as a microorganism. According to The Daily Mail, the mini Mona Lisa measures 0.5 square micrometers which is approximately the same size as E-Coli bacteria.
The research team used a process that’s known as DNA origami which enables you to fold gene strands into two- and three-dimensional shapes. As The Daily Mail notes, DNA is best known for encoding genetic data but it’s also a pretty versatile chemical building block.
The Caltech researchers created software that can take an image and break it up into microscopic square sections and identify the DNA sequences needed to develop those squares. Next, they had to manipulate those sections to get them to self-assemble into a structure that can reassemble the final image.
It’s kind of like putting together a puzzle. They started by joining small areas into larger regions and then joined the larger regions to assemble the entire puzzle.
To create a single square of DNA origami, the team too a long single strand of DNA along with several short single strands, which are known as staples.
When the short staples and the long strand are meshed together in the lab, the staples clump areas of the long strand together. This forces it to fold over and create the shape that you want.
The world’s smallest Mona Lisa is also the world’s largest DNA origami structure. Read more about the work being done in the lab of Caltech's Lulu Qian at https://t.co/db8fm9DAZE. pic.twitter.com/udgDWTq1Lo— Caltech (@Caltech) December 6, 2017
As Engadget reports, it’s a combination of the capabilities of software and liquid manipulation in the lab.
The team didn’t just experiment with recreating that iconic smile. The researchers also “drew” portraits of bacteria and a rooster to illustrate what they were capable of doing with DNA origami. But besides artistic pursuits, there are also some practical uses that could come out of this new research as well.
This manipulation of DNA building blocks could help scientists to develop new materials and “dense circuits.” It could also assist with tests of chemical and molecular interactions, Engadget reports. It may not be big enough to hang in the Louvre but this nanosized Mona Lisa recreation could provide a scientific breakthrough that has long-reaching benefits.