Computational Design of Superhelices by Local Change of the Intrinsic Curvature

Filaments obtained from the juxtaposition of right- and left-handed helix segments.


"Helices appear in nature at many scales, ranging from molecules to tendrils in plants. Organisms take advantage of the helical shape to fold, propel and assemble. For this reason, several applications in micro and nanorobotics, drug delivery and soft-electronics have been suggested. On the other hand, biomolecules can form complex tertiary structures made with helices to accomplish many different functions. A particular well-known case takes place during cell division when DNA, a double helix, is packaged into a super-helix—i.e., a helix made of helices—to prevent DNA entanglement. DNA super-helix formation requires auxiliary histone molecules, around which DNA is wrapped, in a “beads on a string” structure. The idea of creating superstructures from simple elastic filaments served as the inspiration to this work. Here we report a method to produce filaments with complex shapes by periodically creating strains along the ribbons. Filaments can gain helical shapes, and their helicity is ruled by the asymmetric contraction along the main axis. If the direction of the intrinsic curvature is locally changed, then a tertiary structure can result, similar to the DNA wrapped structure. In this process, auxiliary structures are not required and therefore new methodologies to shape filaments, of interest to nanotechnology and biomolecular science, are proposed."

Computational Science – ICCS 2019