The field of nanotechnology has unlimited potential in terms of practical use in the modern world. It’s a relatively new one, but it has been slowly but surely catching on, and today is not an exception. Just recently, researchers from the California Institute of Technology might have potentially created a way to create DNA Robots that can be used to bring medicine to a specific location in the body.
DNA robots aren’t exactly new; they’ve been shown to be able to perform simple tasks. And it makes sense. Instead of trying to make a bunch of nanobots from scratch, why not just program DNA and skip the first 10 steps? This time around, a Caltech research team, headed by Anupama Thubagere and Lulu Qian, has taken it a step further.
The study they had conducted involves creating DNA robots that were programmed to carry out a preset task. That task is basically having the robots “walk” on a test platform, locate a molecule, take that molecule with them, and deliver it to another specific location. The robots had to do all of these independently.
The DNA robots themselves were made from a single strand of DNA with only 53 nucleotides. “Arms” and “legs” were them attached to these strands to allow mobility and “cargo” pickup. The molecules used as cargo were also other single stranded DNA, except shorter and more distinct. Fluorescent dyes were then used to determine whether or not the robots were successfully able to pick up and deliver the right molecules to the right location.
“We designed specific drop‐off locations for each type of cargo: if the type matches, the drop‐off location will signal the robot to release the cargo; otherwise the robot will continue to walk around and search for another drop‐off location,” explains Qian. “You might think that the robot is not smart. But here is a key principle for building molecular machines: make individual molecules as simple as possible so they could function reliably in a complex biochemical environment, but take advantage of what a collection of molecules can do, where the smarts are distributed into different molecules.”
“It is the first time that DNA robots were programmed to perform a cargo‐sorting task, but more important than the task itself, we showed how this seemingly complex task—and potentially many other tasks—that DNA robots can be programmed to do uses very simple and modular building blocks.”