From the Editor – This editorial about shape-shifting molecular robots that respond to DNA signals will definitely leave you fascinated and eager to learn more. Do give it a read.
A research group at Tohoku University and Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology has developed a molecular robot consisting of biomolecules, such as DNA and protein. The molecular robot was developed by integrating molecular machines into an artificial cell membrane. It can start and stop its shape-changing function in response to a specific DNA signal. This is the first time that a molecular robotic system has been able to recognize signals and control its shape-changing function. What this means is that molecular robots could, in the near future, function in a way similar to living organisms.
The molecular robot developed by the research group is extremely small — about one millionth of a meter — similar in size to human cells. It consists of a molecular actuator, composed of protein, and a molecular clutch, composed of DNA. The shape of the robot’s body (artificial cell membrane) can be changed by the actuator, while the transmission of the force generated by the actuator can be controlled by the molecular clutch. The research group demonstrated through experiments that the molecular robot could start and stop the shape-changing behavior in response to a specific DNA signal.
Using sophisticated biomolecules such as DNA and proteins, living organisms perform important functions. A molecular robot is an artificial molecular system that is built by integrating molecular machines. The researchers believe that realization of such a system could lead to a significant breakthrough — a bio-inspired robot designed on a molecular basis. This is expected to significantly expand the possibilities of robotics engineering. The results of this study could lead to technological developments that could help solve important medical issues — such as a treatment robot for live culturing cells and a monitoring robot for checking environmental pollution.
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