Thursday, May 13, 2010

dna robots get sophisticated

The Scientist | Scientists are one step closer to creating molecular robots that may eventually perform complex tasks, such as building nanomolecules or delivering drugs to target tissues.

They have constructed DNA-based robots that can walk along a specific path unaided or collect various nanoparticles along an assembly line, according to two studies published this week in Nature.

"This has the feel to me of the beginning of a technology revolution," said Andrew Ellington, an evolutionary engineer at the University of Texas at Austin and the vice president of the International Society for Nanoscale Science, Computation and Engineering, who was not involved in the research. "This work will absolutely pave the way for how you build molecular robots."

The robots built in one study are a type of DNA walker, called a molecular "spider." They are minute, mobile molecules that move along a flat surface made out of folded DNA, known as DNA origami, binding to and unbinding from the surface as they go.

The movement of these spiders is largely random, however, said biochemist and study co-author Milan Stojanovic of Columbia University. But together with several other big players in the nanotechnology and DNA computing fields, including Nils Walter of the University of Michigan, Erik Winfree of the California Institute of Technology, and Hao Yan of Arizona State University, Stojanovic designed a DNA origami surface that directed the DNA spider down a specified path (see video).

"You just have to start it, and it walks the path," said chemist Kurt Gothelf, director of Centre for DNA Nanotechnology at Aarhus University in Denmark, who was not involved in the research.