A DNA nanotechnology road to molecular assembly lines?

A DNA nanotechnology road to molecular assembly lines?

A piece in The Christian Science Monitor compares Nadrian Seeman, founder of the field of structural DNA nanotechnology and winner of the 1995 Foresight Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology, with Henry Ford—implying that his recent accomplishment with his collaborators in creating a two-armed DNA nanorobot could point to a role for DNA nanorobots in future nanotech assembly lines. From “Nanotechnology may have found its Henry Ford: Tiny DNA robots could be the future of assembly lines“, written by Jesse Emspak:

Nadrian Seeman sees a future filled with extremely small factory workers.

By small, the New York University chemistry professor means a billionth of a meter.

That’s the scale that he and others who work in the field of nanotechnology deal with on an everyday basis. By manipulating molecules, they attempt to build new materials and microscopic robots, possibly small and smart enough to move through human bodies.

But nanotechnology’s key obstacle has always been how to mass-produce these exotic molecules used as building blocks.

At this early stage, nanoscale manufacturing mistakes are pretty common. It would be as though a factory churned out cars where the rearview mirror was attached to the hood — and did so a third of the time.

But Professor Seeman has found a way around that. He and a Chinese team at Nanjing University have built a nanoscale factory worker. The tiny machine is made of DNA…

The machine has two “arms” made of strings of DNA that are attached by another chain of DNA.

Each arm has a molecule on the end that attaches to other molecules and aligns them in a set order. These sticky ends only connect with a particular building block, and Seeman can program them to specify which molecule he wants.

This allows him to arrange pieces and form specific molecules with some precision — similar to the way a robotic automobile factory can be told what kind of car to make.

After the arms create the desired molecules one at a time, the whole mixture is heated and cooled, which causes the correct molecules to displace the incorrect ones.

This fixes any errors and is what makes the “factory” reliable enough to mass-produce.

Thus far, Seeman’s team has made molecules with various shapes — squares and triangles — that don’t have a specific function. The next step is constructing functional molecules — but he is mum on the details.

He imagines building several tiny DNA machines and programming them to work in harmony, creating more complex substances such as a fiber or even an electronic device.…

As someone who has been watching Prof. Seeman’s work as a path toward advanced nanotechnology since 1987, I have found the progress in structural DNA nanotechnology a major reason to hope that we will not have to wait too many more decades for assembly lines doing molecular manufacturing. Whether those assembly lines will be using nanorobots made from DNA—or whether DNA nanorobots will have been an intermediate phase on the path to molecular machinery built of diamondoid components—is another matter.

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  1. Anonymous April 9, 2009 at 7:06 pm - Reply

    Hi to everyone.Perhaps I’ve been watching too much Terminator,amd Matrix movies, and reading too many “grey goo “articles ,but where is the off switch for these little DNA robots?What if the first functional molecule these robots create has a small genetic “deficiency” in its molecular structure that allows it an “evolutionary advantage” so to speak, over the less well endowed prior version of that particular molecule. However, what if the molecular variant has unintended consequences, or,”side effects”, which, for example, would eat through the molecular structure of all the concrete on Earth, or perhaps all the steel and metal alloy compounds. Once released into the environment, it could supplant the natural molecule, similar to the danger of genetically engineered crops supplanting more robust, natural varieties.I’m just an amateur ,who reads this stuff for fun.
    Mark J. Fiore

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