The tile assembly model is intrinsically universal
We prove that the abstract Tile Assembly Model (aTAM) of nanoscale self-assembly is intrinsically universal. This means that there is a single tile assembly system U that, with proper initialization, simulates any tile assembly system T. The simulation is "intrinsic" in the sense that the self-assembly process carried out by U is exactly that carried out by T, with each tile of T represented by an m × m "super tile" of U. Our construction works for the full aTAM at any temperature, and it faithfully simulates the deterministic or nondeterministic behavior of each T. Our construction succeeds by solving an analog of the cell differentiation problem in developmental biology: Each super tile of U, starting with those in the seed assembly, carries the "genome" of the simulated system T. At each location of a potential super tile in the self-assembly of U, a decision is made whether and how to express this genome, i.e., whether to generate a super tile and, if so, which tile of T it will represent. This decision must be achieved using asynchronous communication under incomplete information, but it achieves the correct global outcome(s).