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DNA nano-robots hint at the future of drug delivery

Two DNA nanorobots collectively performing a cargo-sorting task on a DNA origami surface: transporting fluorescent molecules with different colors from initially random locations to ordered destinations. Credit: Demin Liu

The DNA in our cells, as in the ones of every living beings on Earth (with the exception of a few viruses that do not have DNA but use only RNA), is to all effect a “program” containing instructions on what should be done.
Scientists have already used DNA for storing information and are changing the DNA in genes to … change the program.

Now a team of researchers at Caltech (but they are not the only ones working in this area) have published an article where they report on the construction of DNA that can serve as nano-robots able to sort molecules and build more complex aggregation (look at the rendering in the picture). Additionally, these nano-robots can sense the presence of some molecule and move in that direction. As an example they would be able to detect the presence of specific molecules in the blood stream and follow them to the point where they are present on a cell membrane and then deliver their “cargo”. In this way it would be possible to deliver drugs to specific cells, like cancerous cells since they are producing specific molecules.

One should note that the transportation is based on casual/chaotic movements, each step correspond to 6nm!, and it is just chance that can bring a nano-bot in touch with the right molecule. However, provided a large number of these bots, eventually a few will reach the destination and only at that point they will release the drug.

The researchers are studying the mechanisms of these DNA based nano-robots with no specific application in mind, although they are seeing promising fields in the areas of creating complex molecular structures and delivering of molecules, drugs as an example, to specific locations characterised by specific molecular structures.

In a way this is similar to what is happening in our bodies, and into those of any other living being, where billions of molecules move in a chaotic way, eventually finding the right spot to terminate their journey.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.