In addition to looking for sponsors for our mission, we are working in the laboratory on several test series to determine the optimal conditions for DNA origami crystal growth.
Since we have developed a new crystallisation approach, there is a lot to test before we are ready to send our experiment into space!
On earth, mainly crystallization methods are used, in which the solvent is slowly extracted from a drop. This increases the concentration of particles (in our case DNA Origami) in the drop and crystallization can begin.
However, handling drops in microgravity is a rather bad idea, which is why a new method had to be found.
In recent years, several clever crystallization methods have been developed especially for microgravity conditions and successfully applied on the ISS. However, since we only have a volume of 1L in our ScienceBox and the experiment has to be fully automated, none of these could be used. So we developed the first crystallization setup for a ScienceBox: the Space Origami crystallization method.
But how do we actually test whether our method works when DNA origami structures do not form crystals on Earth?
The founder of DNA nanotechnology, Nadrian C. Seeman, designed a very stable, small triangle: the DNA Tensegrity Triangle, which is easy to crystallize. This is not a DNA origami structure, macroscopic crystals are not possible, but the Tensegrity Triangle can be used to test the Space Origami crystallization method.
The Space Origami Crystallization Method
Experiments in space should be kept as simple as possible, which is exactly what we kept in mind when designing the Space Origami ScienceBox. Once the box has safely arrived on the ISS, we can trigger a mechanism from Earth that connects the DNA Origami solution with a salt solution, causing diffusion to locally increase the concentration of DNA Origami structures and trigger crystallization. We have tested many different approaches: varying the salt content, changing the temperature in the crystallization oven, staining the structures,… and many more.
Last week we could finally see the first crystals! Beautifully colorful and easily recognizable under a stereomicroscope! The Space Origami crystallization approach works!
Now we need financial support to make the flight of our experiment to the International Space Station possible and to crystallize DNA Origami structures.
Parallel to looking for funding and making crystallisation experiments in the lab, we are working on the first prototype of the Space Origami ScienceBox. It will be the first automated crystallisation device for microgravity!
Your Space Origami Crew
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