Researchers have devised a magnetic control system to make tiny DNA-based robots move on demand — and much faster than recently possible.

In the journal Nature Communications, Carlos Castro and Ratnasingham Sooryakumar and their colleagues from The Ohio State University report that the control system reduced the response time of prototype nano-robot components from several minutes to less than a second.

Not only does the discovery represent a significant improvement in speed, this work and one other recent study herald the first direct, real-time control of DNA-based molecular machines.

The discovery could one day enable nano-robots to manufacture objects — such as drug-delivery devices — as quickly and reliably as their full-size counterparts. Previously, researchers could only move DNA indirectly, by inducing chemical reactions to coax it to move certain ways, or introducing molecules that reconfigure the DNA by binding with it. Those processes take time.

“Imagine telling a robot in a factory to do something and having to wait five minutes for it to perform a single step of a task. That was the case with earlier methods for controlling DNA nano-machines,” said Castro, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

“Real-time manipulation methods like our magnetic approach enable the possibility for scientists to interact with DNA nano-devices, and in turn interact with molecules and molecular systems that could be coupled to those nano-devices in real-time with direct visual feedback.”


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