A robotic arm made of DNA moves at dizzying speed

Electric fields control the bot’s movements, giving the nanomachine its zip

DNA robot illustration

RAPID ROTATION  A robot made entirely of DNA can rotate its arm (purple) 360 degrees or lock it down in certain positions thanks to special latches (yellow) on the bot's platform.

C. Bickel/Science 2018

A new robotic arm made of DNA moves 100,000 times faster than previous DNA machinery.

The DNA nanobot is shaped like a gearshift, with an extendible arm that ranges from 25 to more than 400 nanometers long that’s attached to a 55-by-55-nanometer platform. Researchers remotely control this DNA device, described in the Jan. 19 Science, with electric fields that tug on charged molecules in its arm. Those electric fields help the nanomachine’s arm move much more quickly than previous DNA robots, which relied on chemical interactions between DNA molecules to move (SN: 9/11/10, p. 18).

Friedrich Simmel, a biophysicist at the Technical University of Munich, and his colleagues could swivel their DNA robotic arm 360 degrees in a matter of milliseconds. To lock the arm down in particular positions, the team built latches made of short, single-stranded DNA into the platform.

Such quick, efficient DNA nanobots could someday help move tiny cargo, such as molecules or nanoparticles, in a nanofactory that manufactures new types of materials.

Previously the staff writer for physical sciences at Science News, Maria Temming is the assistant managing editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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