Scientists have created the first of what they call “DNA nanorobots,” which could be a major advancement in more than just one medical field. The idea is to take a few pieces of DNA and ‘mold’ them into a biological “robot”. One that is capable of picking up molecules and moving them to specific drop-off points.
The DNA Nanorobots, Still Fairly Simple, but With the Capability to Advance
So far, researchers have created a fairly simple type of DNA nanorobots. Each one has a “leg” and two “feet” to move around, and an “arm” with a “hand” that can move molecules. Another segment functions as the “brain,” and is able to recognize the drop-off point and deposit its cargo. However, more complex models, which could perform different functions or move multiple things at once, are theoretically on the table for the future.
“Just like electro-mechanical robots are sent off to faraway places, like Mars, we would like to send molecular robots to minuscule places where humans can’t go, such as the bloodstream,” said California Institute of Technology assistant professor Lulu Qian.
For their initial experiment, scientists had their tiny automaton sort six different fluorescent molecules. Three of these were pink, the other three yellow, and they were dropped off at specific places. It took about 24 hours with one DNA robot and went quicker when more of them worked together on the task.
Some possible applications of the DNA nanorobots include building therapeutic chemicals from raw molecular parts in an artificial environment. These could then be set loose into the bloodstream to deposit them wherever they are explicitly needed. Furthermore, they could be used to explore the molecular world in the body or sort through ‘unimportant’ components for recycling.
Anupama Thubagere, also part of the study team, explains that these DNA nanorobots also have a broad range of possible applications. He points out that the invention was tested and programmed for a particular task. However, the same “system design” could be adapted and function with other “dozens of types of cargoes at any arbitrary initial location on the surface”, explains Thubagere.
Current study findings are available in the journal Science.
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