Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) has emerged as an attractive building material for creating complex architectures at the nanometer scale that simultaneously affords versatility and modularity. Particularly, the programmability of DNA enables the assembly of basic building units into increasingly complex, arbitrary shapes or patterns. With the expanding complexity and functionality of DNA toolboxes, a quantitative understanding of DNA self-assembly in terms of thermodynamics and kinetics, will provide researchers with more subtle design guidelines that facilitate more precise spatial and temporal control. This dissertation focuses on studying the physicochemical properties of DNA tile-based self-assembly process by recapitulating representative scenarios and intermediate states with unique assembly pathways.
First, DNA double-helical tiles with increasing flexibility were designed to investigate the dimerization kinetics. The higher dimerization rates of more rigid tiles result from the opposing effects of higher activation energies and higher pre-exponential factors from the Arrhenius equation, where the pre-exponential factor dominates. Next, the thermodynamics and kinetics of single tile attachment to preformed “multitile” arrays were investigated to test the fundamental assumptions of tile assembly models. The results offer experimental evidences that double crossover tile attachment is determined by the electrostatic environment and the steric hindrance at the binding site. Finally, the assembly of double crossover tiles within a rhombic DNA origami frame was employed as the model system to investigate the competition between unseeded, facet and seeded nucleation. The results revealed that preference of nucleation types can be tuned by controlling the rate-limiting nucleation step.
The works presented in this dissertation will be helpful for refining the DNA tile assembly model for future designs and simulations. Moreover, The works presented here could also be helpful in understanding how individual molecules interact and more complex cooperative bindings in chemistry and biology. The future direction will focus on the characterization of tile assembly at single molecule level and the development of error-free tile assembly systems.