Shape-Shifting Nanorobots Made With DNA And Protein

Researchers have built a cell-sized molecular robot that can change its shape in response to a DNA signal.

AsianScientist (Mar. 10, 2017) – A research group at Tohoku University and Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology has developed a shape-changing robot made of DNA and protein. Their findings have been published in Science Robotics.

Using sophisticated biomolecules such as DNA and proteins, living organisms perform important functions. For example, white blood cells can chase bacteria by sensing chemical signals and migrating toward the target. In the field of chemistry and synthetic biology, elemental technologies for making various molecular machines, such as sensors, processors and actuators, are created using biomolecules.

A molecular robot is an artificial molecular system that is built by integrating molecular machines. The researchers believe that realization of such a system could lead to a significant breakthrough—a bio-inspired robot designed on a molecular basis.

To achieve this aim, the researchers integrating molecular machines into an artificial cell membrane to build a molecular robot. The molecular robot developed by the research group is extremely small—about one millionth of a meter—similar in size to human cells.

It consists of a molecular actuator, composed of protein, and a molecular clutch, composed of DNA. The shape of the robot’s body (artificial cell membrane) can be changed by the actuator, while the transmission of the force generated by the actuator can be controlled by the molecular clutch.

Molecular actuators (purple striped) work inside the robot to change the shape of the artificial cell membrane. When a DNA signal is received, the “molecular clutch” transmits the force from the actuator, controlling the shape-changing behavior. Credit: Tohoku University.

The research group demonstrated through experiments that the molecular robot could start and stop the shape-changing behavior in response to a specific DNA signal.

“With more than 20 chemicals at varying concentrations, it took us a year and a half to establish good conditions for working our molecular robots,” said study lead autor Associate Professor Shin-ichiro Nomura from Tohoku University. “It was exciting to see the robot shape-changing motion through the microscope. It meant our designed DNA clutch worked perfectly, despite the complex conditions inside the robot.”

The realization of a molecular robot whose components are designed at a molecular level and who can function in a small and complicated environment, such as the human body, is expected to significantly expand the possibilities of robotics engineering. The results of this study could lead to technological developments that could help solve important medical issues, such as a treatment robot for live culturing cells and a monitoring robot for checking environmental pollution.

The article can be found at: Sato et al. (2017) Micrometer-sized Molecular Robot Changes its Shape in Response to Signal Molecules.


Source: Tohoku University; Photo: Shutterstock.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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