Specificity, flexibility and valence of DNA bonds guide emulsion architecture†
The specificity and thermal reversibility of DNA interactions have enabled the self-assembly of crystal structures, self-replicating materials and colloidal molecules. Grafting DNA onto liquid interfaces of emulsions leads to exciting new architectural possibilities due to the mobility of the DNA ligands and the patches they form between bound droplets. Here we show that the size and number of these adhesion patches (valency) can be controlled. Valence 2 leads to flexible polymers of emulsion droplets, while valence above 4 leads to rigid droplet networks. A simple thermodynamic model quantitatively describes the increase in the patch size with droplet radii, DNA concentration and the stiffness of the tether to the sticky-end. The patches are formed between droplets with complementary DNA strands or alternatively with complementary colloidal nanoparticles to mediate DNA binding between droplets. This emulsion system opens the route to directed self-assembly of more complex structures through distinct DNA bonds with varying strengths and controlled valence and flexibility.