Duplo DNA — the Science of Lego Self-Assembly

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While many of us have probably used Lego parts to simulate scientific principles of one kind or another, reader Kee Nethery discovered that Duplo bricks will actually behave in strange and scientific ways when put through, of all things, a clothes washer:

We ran our son’s Duplo Lego bricks through the clothes washer in preparation for giving them away and the results were astonishing. After a gentle wash for 37 minutes, with some towels to muffle the noise, a significant percentage had combined together. The immediate thought was of amino acids combining into DNA. Half way through emptying the washer they were still coming out assembled. We figured an experiment was in order. Here are the results of the second wash with all the pieces separated before washing:

Experimental conditions: We have a normal home sized front loader washer. It was set to quick wash, low speed tumble, additional rinse. Added two towels and four wash cloths to help muffle the noise, 2 tablespoons of baking soda. The Duplo population was a total of 222 separate pieces.

Experimental Results: When the wash was done, 66 pieces had combined together. 30% of the pieces had mated up with at least one other piece. Of that, 52 were in pairs (23%), 6 were in triples (3%), and 8 were quadruplets (4%).

With 30% of the Legos combining with others in 37 minutes, makes one wonder what conditions are needed for molecules to combine into amino acids and amino acids into DNA.

Caution: We used Duplo bricks that are too big to jam into a crack inside our washer. Many of the small regular sized Lego bricks would probably jam and damage a washer.

This is obviously an important phenomenon that requires further study. Time to start writing the grant applications!

[Kee Nethery is the founder of Kagi.com]

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