03 March 2009 New York University

A Robot So Tiny it Can Alter DNA Code

DNA.

Forget R2-D2 and C-3PO — NYU researchers have developed an entirely different and exciting kind of robot.

After years of research, a team of chemists from NYU and China 's Nanjing University has created a two-armed nanorobot with the ability to alter and exchange pieces of genetic code. The catch? Their device has to be small enough to work on a molecular scale.

Built from DNA, the new nanorobot measures approximately 150 x 50 x 8 nanometers. And that's tiny: a nanometer is a billionth of a meter.

With this device, size really does matter; while one array of molecules that the device studies measures out to be 120 x 50 square nanometers, Hongzhou Gu, a fifth-year chemistry graduate student, said that one of the researchers' goals is to create larger arrays accessible to the device.

“If we can get the array bigger,” Gu said, “that means more arms on the array and more information we can store.”

Gu said technology tends to follow a top-down method, meaning products continuously get smaller and smaller. However, their group utilizes a bottom-up method, attempting to make their arrays larger.

According to Ned Seeman, an NYU chemistry professor involved in the research, nanotechnology such as this provides “the capability of putting what you want where you want it when you want it there, and all on the nanometer scale.”

That manipulation of molecules therefore facilitates the conception of new DNA structures, allowing for the manufacturing of never-before-seen synthetic materials.

Computer processors and circuitry can also benefit from improvements in nanotechnology. Nanomachines inside computers could allow for more binary states, allowing for double the current computing speed.

The new device's arms, which resemble two holes with a space between them, reside within an origami-like rectangular array. The arms, called cassettes, store different pieces of information; while DNA has previously filled that niche, other species such as proteins and chemical components could theoretically be placed in the arms.

Hao Yan, one researcher who worked in the NYU lab, said using the arms in a “controllable fashion” is a breakthrough.

“This is an exciting step toward implementing molecular assembly lines that could be used to control chemical synthesis, to activate protein-protein interaction, or to attenuate signal transductions,” Yan said.

Source: New York University /...


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