Nanobots Made of DNA Can Now Carry and Sort Molecular Cargo

In Brief


Scientists are increasingly using DNA to build structures at the tiniest scales. Now, researchers from CalTech have used DNA to create a new type of robot designed to move and lift molecular cargo.

Robots Made of DNA

Scientists are increasingly using DNA to build structures at the tiniest scales, a process sometimes called DNA origami. Because DNA can store a lot of information, structures built out of it can be used to deliver medicines throughout the body or transport gene editing tools. Now, researchers have used DNA to create a new type of robot designed to move and lift cargo at the smallest scales. Their research has been published in Science.

“Just like electromechanical robots are sent off to faraway places, like Mars, we would like to send molecular robots to minuscule places where humans can’t go, such as the bloodstream,” Lulu Qian, a bioengineering professor at the California Institute of Technology and one of the study’s authors, explained in a press release. “Our goal was to design and build a molecular robot that could perform a sophisticated nanomechanical task: cargo sorting.”

The researchers wanted to create robots that could pick up and sort molecules within a designated space. To that end, they created a three-part DNA robot out of a single strand of DNA. To help it maneuver within the designated space, the robot had a “leg” with a pair of feet. An “arm” with a “hand” allowed it to carry cargo, and a third component was added to tell the hand when a specific drop-off point had been reached so it would know to release the cargo.

Conceptual illustration of a DNA robot sorting two types of cargos. Considerable artistic license has been taken. Image Credit: Ella Maru Studio (www.scientific-illustrations.com)

To test their robot, the researchers created a board featuring a grid of single DNA strands to which their robot could bind with one foot. Meanwhile, the other foot would…

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