This airplane was designed using the MagicDNA software and strands of DNA, coming in at 1000-times smaller than the width of a human hair. (Image credit: Ohio State University)
Scientists from Ohio State University have developed a method to design DNA robots in a matter of minutes instead of days. The breakthrough will allow the creation of tiny robots and other nanoscale devices that could deliver medicines and detect deadly pathogens from inside the body, and even be used to build increasingly smaller electronics. The scientists recently unveiled a new software platform, known as MagicDNA, which allows them to design ways to take strands of DNA and combine them to make complex structures with parts, such as hinges and actuators, capable of moving to perform a variety of tasks.
Typically, designing tiny nanoscale parts took days to accomplish and was limited in the number of parts that could be included. “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,” stated Hai-Jun Su, professor of mechanical aerospace engineering at OSU. “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 offers several advantages the scientists can capitalize on, such as creating a design entirely in 3D, which was previously done in 2D and then remapped in 3D. Another advantage is being able to produce a design from the top-down or bottom-up. The bottom-up approach allows scientists to take strands of DNA and combine them to make any number of structures, while the top-down method allows them to design the overall shape of the robots, then automate how the DNA comes together. What’s more, the platform can simulate how the completed robots would move and operate in a natural environment. Some of the devices the scientists have created using MagicDNA include robotic arms with claws that can pick up objects and a nanometer-sized airplane that’s 1000X smaller than a human hair.
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