This Font Made Of DNA Isn’t Just For Kicks

The tech behind it could help in biological watermarking and nano-assembly, for starters.

This Font Made Of DNA Isn’t Just For Kicks

I once thought I’d discovered the world’s smallest legible font, but ace science journalist Ed Yong has proven me way wrong. Not only did he dig up a font made out of microscopic fragments of DNA, he actually wrote a blog post about it in that font. Behold the radness:

So what on earth is a DNA font good for? To be fair, the scientists behind this breakthrough weren’t trying to design a “DNA sans”, as Yong puts it–their goal was to create an easier means of fabricating microscopic structures for a variety of scientific applications, such as nano-assembly or drug delivery. “Our approach demonstrates a completely modular nature and we can make DNA shapes customized easily,” lead author Bryan Wei, of Harvard Medical School, tells Co.Design. “When people want to use a certain shape for a specific application, they might not need to design the structure from scratch. Instead, they can just choose from the existing designs or make modular modification to fit their R&D scheme.”

Creating a DNA alphabet was simply a vivid way for the scientists to demonstrate the flexibility and atomic-level accuracy of their system. But you don’t even need a PhD in order to use it, because they also created a graphical user interface that lets anyone with a mouse (and access to an atomic force microscope, the device that “draws” the DNA) sketch out the shape they want without mucking around with code or technical specs.

Still, the DNAlphabet could actually have intriguing applications of its own. Security-minded (or just plain egomaniacal) researchers could use these microscopic structures to watermark their synthetic-biological products, just like that scene in Blade Runner. Even cooler: “One can imagine we can use the shapes as invisible ink in a secret-agent way,” says Wei. “High density information can be delivered in a test tube or simply as powder.”

That’s a long way off, if not complete science fiction. But if we can write blog posts in the molecular language of life itself, how farfetched could that scenario really be?

[via Not Exactly Rocket Science; Image: djem/Shutterstock]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.