Nanotechnology Now

Our NanoNews Digest Sponsors



Heifer International

Wikipedia Affiliate Button


android tablet pc

Home > Press > Spiders at the Nanoscale: Molecules that Behave Like Robots

The latest installment in DNA nanotechnology has arrived: A molecular nanorobot dubbed a "spider" and labeled with green dyes traverses a substrate track built upon a DNA origami scaffold. It journeys towards its red-labeled goal by cleaving the visited substrates, thus exhibiting the characteristics of an autonomously moving, behavior-based robot at the molecular scale. Credit: Courtesy of Paul Michelotti
The latest installment in DNA nanotechnology has arrived: A molecular nanorobot dubbed a "spider" and labeled with green dyes traverses a substrate track built upon a DNA origami scaffold. It journeys towards its red-labeled goal by cleaving the visited substrates, thus exhibiting the characteristics of an autonomously moving, behavior-based robot at the molecular scale. Credit: Courtesy of Paul Michelotti

Abstract:
A team of scientists from Columbia University, Arizona State University, the University of Michigan, and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have programmed an autonomous molecular "robot" made out of DNA to start, move, turn, and stop while following a DNA track.

Spiders at the Nanoscale: Molecules that Behave Like Robots

Pasadena, CA | Posted on May 12th, 2010

The development could ultimately lead to molecular systems that might one day be used for medical therapeutic devices and molecular-scale reconfigurable robots—robots made of many simple units that can reposition or even rebuild themselves to accomplish different tasks.

A paper describing the work appears in the current issue of the journal Nature.

The traditional view of a robot is that it is "a machine that senses its environment, makes a decision, and then does something—it acts," says Erik Winfree, associate professor of computer science, computation and neural systems, and bioengineering at Caltech.

Milan N. Stojanovic, a faculty member in the Division of Experimental Therapeutics at Columbia University, led the project and teamed up with Winfree and Hao Yan, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Arizona State University and an expert in DNA nanotechnology, and with Nils G. Walter, professor of chemistry and director of the Single Molecule Analysis in Real-Time (SMART) Center at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, for what became a modern-day self-assembly of like-minded scientists with the complementary areas of expertise needed to tackle a tough problem.

Shrinking robots down to the molecular scale would provide, for molecular processes, the same kinds of benefits that classical robotics and automation provide at the macroscopic scale. Molecular robots, in theory, could be programmed to sense their environment (say, the presence of disease markers on a cell), make a decision (that the cell is cancerous and needs to be neutralized), and act on that decision (deliver a cargo of cancer-killing drugs).

Or, like the robots in a modern-day factory, they could be programmed to assemble complex molecular products. The power of robotics lies in the fact that once programmed, the robots can carry out their tasks autonomously, without further human intervention.

With that promise, however, comes a practical problem: how do you program a molecule to perform complex behaviors?

"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 Walter. And you do that, says Stojanovic, "by imbuing the molecule's environment with informational cues."

"We were able to create such a programmed or 'prescribed' environment using DNA origami," explains Yan. DNA origami, an invention by Caltech Senior Research Associate Paul W. K. Rothemund, is a type of self-assembled structure made from DNA that can be programmed to form nearly limitless shapes and patterns (such as smiley faces or maps of the Western Hemisphere or even electrical diagrams). Exploiting the sequence-recognition properties of DNA base pairing, DNA origami are created from a long single strand of DNA and a mixture of different short synthetic DNA strands that bind to and "staple" the long DNA into the desired shape. The origami used in the Nature study was a rectangle that was 2 nanometers (nm) thick and roughly 100 nm on each side.

The researchers constructed a trail of molecular "bread crumbs" on the DNA origami track by stringing additional single-stranded DNA molecules, or oligonucleotides, off the ends of the staples. These represent the cues that tell the molecular robots what to do—start, walk, turn left, turn right, or stop, for example—akin to the commands given to traditional robots.

The molecular robot the researchers chose to use—dubbed a "spider"—was invented by Stojanovic several years ago, at which time it was shown to be capable of extended, but undirected, random walks on two-dimensional surfaces, eating through a field of bread crumbs.

To build the 4-nm-diameter molecular robot, the researchers started with a common protein called streptavidin, which has four symmetrically placed binding pockets for a chemical moiety called biotin. Each robot leg is a short biotin-labeled strand of DNA, "so this way we can bind up to four legs to the body of our robot," Walter says. "It's a four-legged spider," quips Stojanovic. Three of the legs are made of enzymatic DNA, which is DNA that binds to and cuts a particular sequence of DNA. The spider also is outfitted with a "start strand"—the fourth leg—that tethers the spider to the start site (one particular oligonucleotide on the DNA origami track). "After the robot is released from its start site by a trigger strand, it follows the track by binding to and then cutting the DNA strands extending off of the staple strands on the molecular track," Stojanovic explains.

"Once it cleaves," adds Yan, "the product will dissociate, and the leg will start searching for the next substrate." In this way, the spider is guided down the path laid out by the researchers. Finally, explains Yan, "the robot stops when it encounters a patch of DNA that it can bind to but that it cannot cut," which acts as a sort of flypaper.

Although other DNA walkers have been developed before, they've never ventured farther than about three steps. "This one," says Yan, "can walk up to about 100 nanometers. That's roughly 50 steps."

"This in itself wasn't a surprise," adds Winfree, "since Milan's original work suggested that spiders can take hundreds if not thousands of processive steps. What's exciting here is that not only can we directly confirm the spiders' multistep movement, but we can direct the spiders to follow a specific path, and they do it all by themselves—autonomously."

In fact, using atomic force microscopy and single-molecule fluorescence microscopy, the researchers were able to watch directly spiders crawling over the origami, showing that they were able to guide their molecular robots to follow four different paths.

"Monitoring this at a single molecule level is very challenging," says Walter. "This is why we have an interdisciplinary, multi-institute operation. We have people constructing the spider, characterizing the basic spider. We have the capability to assemble the track, and analyze the system with single-molecule imaging. That's the technical challenge." The scientific challenges for the future, Yan says, "are how to make the spider walk faster and how to make it more programmable, so it can follow many commands on the track and make more decisions, implementing logical behavior."

"In the current system," says Stojanovic, "interactions are restricted to the walker and the environment. Our next step is to add a second walker, so the walkers can communicate with each other directly and via the environment. The spiders will work together to accomplish a goal." Adds Winfree, "The key is how to learn to program higher-level behaviors through lower-level interactions."

Such collaboration ultimately could be the basis for developing molecular-scale reconfigurable robots—complicated machines that are made of many simple units that can reorganize themselves into any shape—to accomplish different tasks, or fix themselves if they break. For example, it may be possible to use the robots for medical applications. "The idea is to have molecular robots build a structure or repair damaged tissues," says Stojanovic.

"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."

Such applications, while intriguing, are decades or more away. "This may be 100 years in the future," Stojanovic says. "We're so far from that right now."

"But," Walter adds, "just as researchers self-assemble today to solve a tough problem, molecular nanorobots may do so in the future."

The other coauthors on the paper, "Molecular robots guided by prescriptive landscapes," are Kyle Lund and Jeanette Nangreave from Arizona State University; Anthony J. Manzo, Alexander Johnson-Buck, and Nicole Michelotti from the University of Michigan; Nadine Dabby from Caltech; and Steven Taylor and Renjun Pei from Columbia University. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Army Research Office, the Office of Naval Research, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, the Searle Foundation, the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and a Sloan Research Fellowship.

####

Contacts:
Kathy Svitil
Caltech Media Relations
(626) 395-8022


Alex Lyda
Department of Communications, Columbia University Medical Center
212-305-0820


Joe Caspermeyer
Arizona State University Media Relations
480-965-8383


Nancy Ross-Flanigan
University of Michigan News Service
734-647-1853

If you have a comment, please Contact us.

Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.

Bookmark:
Delicious Digg Newsvine Google Yahoo Reddit Magnoliacom Furl Facebook

Related News Press

News and information

Renishaw receives Queen's Award for spectroscopy developments November 25th, 2014

JPK reports on the use of AFM and the CellHesion module to study plant cells at the University of Queensland November 25th, 2014

Vegetable oil ingredient key to destroying gastric disease bacteria: In mice, therapeutic nanoparticles dampen H. pylori bacteria and inflammation that lead to ulcers and gastric cancer November 25th, 2014

Research yields material made of single-atom layers that snap together like Legos November 25th, 2014

Possible Futures

A novel method for identifying the body’s ‘noisiest’ networks November 19th, 2014

Researchers discern the shapes of high-order Brownian motions November 17th, 2014

VDMA Electronics Production Equipment: Growth track for 2014 and 2015 confirmed: Business climate survey shows robust industry sector November 14th, 2014

Open Materials Development Will Be Key for HP's Success in 3D Printing: HP can make a big splash in 3D printing, but it needs to shore up technology claims and avoid the temptation of the razor/razor blade business model in order to flourish November 11th, 2014

Academic/Education

SUNY Poly Student Awarded Fellowship with the U.S. Department of Energy's Postgraduate Research Program: Ph.D. Candidate Accepts Postmaster's Appointment To Conduct Research At Albany NanoTech Complex November 13th, 2014

SUNY Polytechnic Institute Hosts Massive Crowd of More Than 3,000 People Who Attended Community Day Activities Across New York State: CNSE’s ‘NANOvember’ kickoff event highlights New York State’s growing high-tech sector with open house events in Albany, Utica, and Rochester November 3rd, 2014

SUNY Polytechnic Institute Invites the Public to Attend its Popular Statewide 'NANOvember' Series of Outreach and Educational Events October 23rd, 2014

First Canada Excellence Research Chair gets $10 million from the federal government for oilsands research at the University of Calgary: Federal government announces prestigious research chair to study improving oil production efficiency October 19th, 2014

Self Assembly

Live Images from the Nano-cosmos: Researchers watch layers of football molecules grow November 5th, 2014

Outsmarting Thermodynamics in Self-assembly of Nanostructures: Berkeley Lab reports method for symmetry-breaking in feedback-driven self-assembly of optical metamaterials November 4th, 2014

NYU Researchers Break Nano Barrier to Engineer the First Protein Microfiber October 23rd, 2014

NIST offers electronics industry 2 ways to snoop on self-organizing molecules October 22nd, 2014

Nanomedicine

Vegetable oil ingredient key to destroying gastric disease bacteria: In mice, therapeutic nanoparticles dampen H. pylori bacteria and inflammation that lead to ulcers and gastric cancer November 25th, 2014

Research reveals how our bodies keep unwelcome visitors out of cell nuclei November 24th, 2014

ASU, IBM move ultrafast, low-cost DNA sequencing technology a step closer to reality November 24th, 2014

An Inside Job: UC-Designed Nanoparticles Infiltrate, Kill Cancer Cells From Within November 24th, 2014

Announcements

Renishaw receives Queen's Award for spectroscopy developments November 25th, 2014

JPK reports on the use of AFM and the CellHesion module to study plant cells at the University of Queensland November 25th, 2014

Vegetable oil ingredient key to destroying gastric disease bacteria: In mice, therapeutic nanoparticles dampen H. pylori bacteria and inflammation that lead to ulcers and gastric cancer November 25th, 2014

Research yields material made of single-atom layers that snap together like Legos November 25th, 2014

Nanobiotechnology

Quantum mechanical calculations reveal the hidden states of enzyme active sites November 20th, 2014

Tokyo Institute of Technology research: Protein-engineered cages aid studies of cell functions November 19th, 2014

A novel method for identifying the body’s ‘noisiest’ networks November 19th, 2014

Implementation of DNA Chains in Designing Nanospin Pieces November 9th, 2014

Research partnerships

Lawrence Livermore researchers develop efficient method to produce nanoporous metals November 25th, 2014

Vegetable oil ingredient key to destroying gastric disease bacteria: In mice, therapeutic nanoparticles dampen H. pylori bacteria and inflammation that lead to ulcers and gastric cancer November 25th, 2014

Characterization of X-ray flashes open new perspectives in X-ray science: Ultra-short X-ray pulses explore the nano world November 24th, 2014

Research reveals how our bodies keep unwelcome visitors out of cell nuclei November 24th, 2014

NanoNews-Digest
The latest news from around the world, FREE




  Premium Products
NanoNews-Custom
Only the news you want to read!
 Learn More
NanoTech-Transfer
University Technology Transfer & Patents
 Learn More
NanoStrategies
Full-service, expert consulting
 Learn More












ASP
Nanotechnology Now Featured Books




NNN

The Hunger Project







© Copyright 1999-2014 7th Wave, Inc. All Rights Reserved PRIVACY POLICY :: CONTACT US :: STATS :: SITE MAP :: ADVERTISE