Motor Made of DNA Runs on Tracks

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DNA has been made into tiny robots and self-replicating machines. Now it’s been made into a tiny motor.

A team at Kyoto University and the University of Oxford has used DNA as the building blocks for a motor that runs along tiny tracks. The tracks all have switches and the network is programmable — just like a computer.

The DNA is manipulated with a technique called “DNA origami.” Just like its paper counterpart, this method uses DNA to fold structures into two and three dimensions. The folding of the molecules is done via sequencing in such a way that the DNA naturally self-assembles into the desired shape. The tiny tracks were laid down on top of tiles, also made of DNA.

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The DNA “motors” run along the tracks, and since you can program the way the tracks are laid down, the whole system can carry information the same way electrons do in a computer’s circuits. Essentially it’s a DNA-powered computer.

"We are really still at an early stage in designing DNA origami-based engineering systems," said Integrated Cell-Material Sciences Professor Hiroshi Sugiyama, in a statement. "The promise is great, but at the same time there are still many technical hurdles to overcome in order to improve the quality of the output."

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So what would you do with this? It won’t be as fast as a digital computer for calculations, but using DNA this way is a good method for building structures at the molecular scale. The programmability of the switches means that now one can give a certain set of inputs and get the expected output — the basis for any manufacturing. Such a programmable DNA system might also make a good sensor.

The work of Sugiyama and the others on the team appeared in the Sunday issue of Nature Nanotechnology.

Image: Adrian Neal/Getty Images