Feeds

Boffins demo one-molecule DNA 'walker' nano-bot

Tiny four-tentacle machine follows origami breadcrumbs

Build a business case: developing custom apps

American boffins say that they have created tiny robot spiders or "walkers", each one of which is a single complicated molecule fashioned out of DNA. They have managed to get the molecular nanorobospiders to follow a trail of DNA "breadcrumbs".

DNA walker nanobot in action. Credit: Paul Michelotti

The sticking-up bits are the breadcrumbs, the red thing is the target.

The central body of the spider is a protein molecule called streptavidin, which has the handy property of coming with four attachment pockets into which can be plugged a "chemical moiety" called biotin. The legs of the spider are fashioned of DNA strands tipped with biotin. (These are four-legged spiders.)

The clever bit comes in the DNA legs. Three of these are designed to bind their other end onto a particular other sort of DNA, cutting it and then so freeing themselves again.

"In normal robotics, the robot itself contains the knowledge about the commands, but with individual molecules, you can't store that amount of information, so the idea instead is to store information on the commands on the outside," says chemistry prof Nils Walter.

Walter and other top nanospider experts did this by attaching bits of the type of DNA favoured by the waving spidery legs to a chain of molecular origami scaffolding, itself a tricky piece of boffinry.

Releasing a spider at the start of the trail of DNA breadcrumbs, its waving tentacles would seek out the tempting treats and so pull the nanomachine forward. As each "leg" bonded to a "breadcrumb" it then cut itself free and began to seek out another.

Using a cunning mixture of atomic force microscopy and single-molecule fluorescence microscopy the assembled boffins were able to watch their nanomachines at work.

Previous DNA walkers could take only two or three steps, apparently, but "this one," says biochemistry prof Hao Yan, "can walk up to about 100 nanometers. That's roughly 50 steps."

The idea is that with the tools and techniques developed in studies like this, boffins will be able in future to carry out some amazing feats.

"You could imagine the spider carrying a drug and bonding to a two-dimensional surface like a cell membrane, finding the receptors and, depending on the local environment," adds Yan, "triggering the activation of this drug."

That kind of thing could offer a cure for cancer, as nanobots would be able to attach to cells, tell if they were malignant, and if so kill them.

Alternatively, legions of nanobots could be used to craft elaborately tailored molecules or nanoscale structures, creating drugs, circuitry or materials with new properties - or repairing damaged tissues within the body.

"This may be 100 years in the future," warns prof Milan Stojanovicm who worked with Walter and Yan on the recent nanobotics effort. "We're so far from that right now."

The allied brainboxes published their research yesterday in hefty boffinry mag Nature, here (subscription required). ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
LOHAN packs bags for SPACEPORT AMERICA!
Spanish launch goes titsup, we're off to the US of A
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
Boffins build CYBORG-MOTHRA but not for evil: For search & rescue
This tiny bio-bot will chew through your clothes then save your life
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.