Chemists have designed molecules that act like nanotech sensing robots by signaling information about their chemical environment. From NewScientist.com news service, written by Jon Evans, “Molecular ‘robots’ explore cellular landscapes” (via KurzweilAI.net):
Molecular “robots” have been developed by chemists to explore the unmapped chemical environments of living cells and transmit back the results.
The new molecules encrypt measurements of two different chemical features of cell membranes into light signals to be decoded by the British and Japanese chemists that built them. One measurement is encoded in the light’s intensity, and the other in its wavelength, or colour.
Being able to map the variables they measure could help biochemists probe the mechanisms by which cells generate energy, or how signals travel through nerve cells.
“Concepts of nanorobotic vehicles and of mapping out nanospaces have emerged from science fiction into experimental science for the first time,” lead researcher A. Prasanna de Silva at Queen’s University, Belfast, UK, told New Scientist.
…”This is the first time that the proton distribution near a membrane has been mapped in such detail,” says de Silva. “This is also the first time that a family of sensor molecules have delivered two separate kinds of information simultaneously from a series of locations.”
The research was published in Angewandte Chemie (citation)