A recent breakthrough in DNA nanotechnology has brought to life the world’s smallest autonomously functioning DNA motor – a teeny tiny train of molecules that has been programmed to navigate a network of tracks with multiple switches. The discovery, which comes from researchers at Oxford University and Kyoto University, paves the way for the development of even more complex nanosystems, including programmable molecular assembly lines and sophisticated sensors.
Most of us are familiar with DNA as the carrier of genetic information in living cells; this is the same property that allows for rational design of base sequences. By encoding DNA with base sequences specific to non-biological component strands, it is possible to form complex nanostructures by self-assembly. The method that made this DNA motor possible is called DNA origami, a process where strands of DNA molecules act as molecular glue and structural material to build nanostructures in two and three-dimensions.
“Imagine an industry where products built themselves from the ground up. Rather than cutting raw materials down to size, molecular building blocks would organize one brick at a time into final structures. Similar to life, pre-programmed instructions would be uploaded, stored, and executed by reading the DNA inside each building block thereby giving the architectural blueprints to build something more complex and beautiful than what the discrete components from which it was made,” explained Dr. Hughes, Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Boise State University.
Already powerful as a form of programmable matter useful in medicine to design and fabricate body parts, DNA is now also understood to be a valuable structural material capable of translating inputs into mechanical motion. The DNA nanomoter will push real-world applications well beyond the field of medicine. DNA can be woven into fabrics, catalytically controlled, and used to create diagnostic tools for non-invasive medical procedures. Look forward in the future to more materials, machines, and electronic devices that harness the power of DNA.