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William M Shih, PhD



  • Assistant Professor of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School

Contact Information

  • Office Phone Number(617) 632-5143
  • Fax(617) 632-4471


Dr. Shih received his PhD from Stanford University in 2000 and his postdoctoral training at The Scripps Research Institute, where he created a virus-sized wireframe octahedron that folds from a long single chain of DNA. He joined HMS and DFCI in 2004 and continues to work on DNA nanostructures.


Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
450 Brookline Avenue
Smith 1058C
Boston MA, 02215
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Synthetic Biology and Biomolecular Nanotechnology

A pivotal challenge for nanotechnology in the next half-century is to achieve precise positional control of material on the 1-100 nanometer scale. In light of this challenge, our laboratory explores rational design and directed evolution approaches to developing self-assembling DNA structures and devices with application to problems of biomedical interest.

A key property of DNA - its ability to be amplified exponentially by polymerases - facilitates the large-scale clonal production of individual sequences. This property also makes possible the directed evolution of sequence lineages toward optimized behaviors. Previous examples of 3-dimensional geometric DNA objects, however, were built using architectures that are not amenable to copying by polymerases. We have developed a strategy for encoding DNA cages as single strands that are amplifiable by polymerases and that can be folded into a target structure by a simple denaturation-renaturation procedure. Our demonstration of a clonable DNA octahedron represents a large step toward making the use of DNA scaffolds more practical and versatile.

An unresolved problem in biology is the efficient structure determination of transmembrane proteins. We are working to evolve DNA scaffolds that rigidly position lipid-bilayer-embedded transmembrane proteins into 2-dimensional crystalline arrays and stacked-bilayer, 3-dimensional crystalline arrays for analysis using electron and x-ray diffraction methods.

We are interested in using directed DNA evolution to explore how artificial molecular motors can arise in a Darwinian context. We ask questions such as: How easily can molecular motors be evolved from pools that are populated by DNA molecules encoding (a) completely random sequences, (b) random sequence variants of a catalyst, or (c) random sequence variants of a ligand-activated mechanical switch? Which mechanisms of molecular movement emerge given varying selection pressures? Molecular motors generated from these studies will be integrated with static DNA structures for nanorobotic applications.

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