Tiny Machine Uses DNA to Do Its Work
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A tiny machine that can physically bend DNA to do its
work may be just the first member of a whole generation of microscopic
robots, Swiss researchers said on Friday.
They might be used to diagnose medical conditions, read genes or operate
microscopic valves for precise drug delivery, the team at IBM Research in
Zurich and the University of Basel in Switzerland said.
Writing in the journal Science, they said they found that DNA can be used to
bend tiny silicon ``fingers'' that have a thickness of less than one fiftieth
of a human hair.
They rigged up a system of these little cantilevers -- anchored at one end
and free to bend up and down at the other -- and glued single strands of DNA
onto the top.
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DNA naturally forms a double helix like a twisted ladder, and when cut apart
will naturally try to put itself back together again.
When the researchers put their cantilevers into a solution with the missing
halves of the DNA strands, the pairs zipped themselves together and the
little cantilevers bent under the force.
The movement could be used to see genetic variations in the DNA, such as a
mutation, but could also itself be harnessed to do work, the researchers said.
``This biomechanical technique has the potential to enable fast and cheap
biochemical analysis, and could be used for mobile applications,'' Christoph
Gerber of IBM Research, who led the study, said in a statement.
He said the same technology could look for active proteins being produced by
cells, including those the body produces during disease or after an injury
such as a heart attack.
James Gimzewski of IBM Research said the experiment showed that the unique
properties of DNA could be put to work in tiny robots.
``We have found a way to get DNA to do the work for us, so we don't need
batteries, motors, or the like to operate tiny machines,'' he said.
Such a little device might be used to open a valve, perhaps to deliver drugs
in precise doses right where they are needed in the body.
``For instance, we can envision a system to attack cancerous growth -- the
release of just the proper doses of chemicals in the appropriate location of
the body could be achieved using tiny microcapsules equipped with
nano-valves,'' Gimzewski said.
``They could be programmed chemically to open only when they get biochemical
signals from a targeted tumor type. This would enable the right therapy at
the right place at the right time, with minimized side effects and no
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