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That's one small step for a DNA robot, one giant leap for mankind

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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IMAGE: Conceptual illustration of a DNA robot sorting two types of cargos. Considerable artistic license has been taken. This material relates to a paper that appeared in the Sept. 15, 2017,... view more 

Credit: Ella Maru Studio (www.scientific-illustrations.com)

The future is here - and it involves miniature robots made of DNA that can pick up particles and deliver them to a different area. While the advancement on its own is a sophisticated display of science, such technology could be used for a wide range of applications; for example, these robots could be used to assemble chemical compounds, or to rearrange nanoparticles on circuits. To create the robot, Anupama J. Thubagere and colleagues assembled various strands of DNA, which include one "leg" that sprouts two feet, and two arms that carry a piece of cargo. The robot moves along 2-D tracks of DNA origami. Only one foot can be anchored to a track at a given time; therefore as one foot steps down on the track, the other becomes free. The robot walks randomly along the track until it encounters the object it's designed to carry, in this case a fluorescent molecule or a DNA strand that binds to the robot's arms. The robot continues to move aimlessly along the track until it encounters a goal strand of DNA. The researchers designed the goal strand to automatically snatch the cargo from the robot. The robot is then free to explore other locations on the origami surface and pick up another piece of cargo it encounters. The authors found that individual robots have an 80% chance of successful delivery. One step for these little guys takes five minutes, and allows them to move six nanometers. The authors suggest that the time it takes for the robots to deliver their cargo could be dramatically decreased by giving the robot single-stranded "tails" or by using protein motors programmed by DNA. John H. Reif discusses this work in a related Perspective.

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