Someday, scientists believe, tiny DNA-based robots and other nanodevices will deliver medicine inside our bodies, detect the presence of deadly pathogens, and help manufacture increasingly smaller electronics.

Researchers took a big step toward that future by developing a new tool that can design much more complex DNA robots and nanodevices than were ever possible before in a fraction of the time.

In a paper published today in the journal Nature Materials, researchers from The Ohio State University—led by former engineering doctoral student Chao-Min Huang—unveiled new software they call MagicDNA.

The software helps researchers design ways to take tiny strands of DNA and combine them into complex structures with parts like rotors and hinges that can move and complete a variety of tasks, including drug delivery.

Researchers have been doing this for a number of years with slower tools with tedious manual steps, said Carlos Castro, co-author of the study and associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Ohio State.

“But now, nanodevices that may have taken us several days to design before now take us just a few minutes,” Castro said.

And now researchers can make much more complex—and useful—nanodevices.

“Previously, we could build devices with up to about six individual components and connect them with joints and hinges and try to make them execute complex motions,” said study co-author Hai-Jun Su, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Ohio State.

“With this software, it is not hard to make robots or other devices with upwards of 20 components that are much easier to control. It is a huge step in our ability to design nanodevices that can perform the complex actions that we want them to do.”

The software has a variety of advantages that will help scientists design better, more helpful nanodevices and—researchers hope—shorten the time before they are in everyday use.

One advantage is that it allows researchers to carry out the entire design truly in 3-D. Earlier design tools only allowed creation in 2-D, forcing researchers to map their creations into 3-D. That meant designers couldn’t make their devices too complex.

The software also allows designers to build DNA structures “bottom up” or “top down.”

Image Credit:    Uni. of Ohio

Post by Amanda Scott, NA CEO.  Follow her on twitter @tantriclens

Thanks to Heinz V. Hoenen.  Follow him on twitter: @HeinzVHoenen