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DNA Robots

Updated: Jan 28, 2022

By Rafael Perez Vicente
December 16, 2021
UPDATED 12:00 PM EST

[Photo credit: AAAS]


When someone discusses robots, the first thought that likely comes to mind are the images of Baymax or Terminator. However, in the real world, their appearances and structures are far more complex from what’s seen on the big screen. For instance, when we talk about DNA nanorobots, one might picture small human-like forms carrying packages, delivering medicines, and working alongside our beings to perform as best as possible. Yet, despite that there’s some truth in that, this vision is far from what DNA robots look like in actuality.


Since the 1990s, researchers from the nanotechnological guild have been thoroughly working on robot-like systems that work with DNA molecules to complete simple tasks in a controlled nano environment. These mechanical engineering techniques were reported as simple rotatory and linear motions executed by doing conformational changes in the DNA helices.


Nowadays, the complexity and uses of these compositions have grown in different aspects to drain out every possible application for these robots. Scientists believe that fields of medicine, nanotechnology, biotechnology, engineering, and some others will benefit astronomically from this discovery and are working tirelessly to take advantage of said technology. According to an article published by the University of Ohio, scientists have developed software called MagicDNA, which allows them to build and assemble DNA structures for robots in two different ways using 3D technology; before this software, scientists were only capable of designing DNA robots in 2D surfaces. These two ways coin the names “bottom-up” and “top-down.” The first allows engineers to take single-stranded chains of DNA and arrange them in such a way that allows them to create specific structures. The second one contrastingly enables scientists to build structures based on an overall design and purpose that is then assembled by the software with specific DNA strands.


As seen in the above image, the complexity of these robots has reached the point of being able to move in a DNA-constructed canvas to sort out molecules and blocks at a nanoscale level by using specific electric and chemical properties. It has been discovered that robots may work cooperatively alongside each other to make this work faster and more efficient. Yet, researchers are still working to discover the intricacies of their effectiveness and speed to improve their capacity and capabilities.


Some of these robot-like DNA strands work with DNA restoring force like a spring or some other chemical and electrical properties of its specific molecules. Using the Watson-Crick model of pairing for DNA, researchers have found a way for DNA to pair up with specific single-stranded DNA to “walk” from one place to the other. Whereas mechanical DNA “arms” work using charges of electric fields made up by DNA and stopping at specific locations marked by this ssDNA.


Regardless of these discoveries, nanotechnological scientists still have a big road ahead of their technology and its applications. Its work in the human body has been limited due to the DNA strands’ affinity to bind to human DNA, which has the possibility of causing conformational or genetic changes. Thus, applications may be limited for another couple of years until researchers find a way to make a cheap, fast, and safe way to use DNA robots.



References


[1] DNA robots designed in minutes instead of days - Know more facts. (2021, May 2). YouTube. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oMjF4GCYKU


[2] Nummelin, S., Shen, B., Piskunen, P., Liu, Q., Kostiainen, M. A., & Linko, V. (2020). Robotic DNA Nanostructures. ACS Synthetic Biology, 9(8), 1923–1940. https://doi.org/10.1021/acssynbio.0c00235


[3] Ohio State University. (2021, April 19). DNA robots designed in minutes instead of days: New software will allow creation of more complex devices. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/04/210419135731.htm


[4] Smith, C. (2017, September 15). Scientists build “DNA robots” that transport molecular cargo using “arms” and “feet.” ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2017-09-15/dna-robots-that-walk-and-sort/8903138


[5] Sun, W. (2017, December 6). DNA robots that sort cargoes. Nature Nanotechnology. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from https://www.nature.com/articles/nnano.2017.236?error=cookies_not_supported&code=8a6f2d7d-639e-4b0c-889b-e84bdaff4267


[5] Watch a robot made of DNA swing its arm. (2018, January 18). YouTube. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9fuSVaszyg



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