ROBOTS in regeneration: machines made from DNA show signs of life – can eat and grow | Science | New


As technology evolves exponentially, the boundaries between man and machine begin to fade. Scientists at Cornell University have pushed the boundaries of what is considered possible by building machines from DNA that have essential characteristics to be considered alive. The leading project researchers told how their "realistic" biomaterial is capable of metabolism, assembly and self-organization.

The material can not only multiply in the same way as DNA – the molecule carrying the genetic instructions – in a cell, but it can also replicate as the basic genetic material.

And technology can also lead to "realistic machines reproducing reality", capable of evolving autonomously.

The main scientists in the study, Dr Shogo Hamada and Dr Dan Luo, explained the motivation behind the machine.

They said: "The material would normally be static and we are trying to introduce vital properties into this material.

"This would be the first demonstration of the material that uses artificial biology and locomotion capability."

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The two partners also emphasized the "very interesting potential" of incorporating properties of life into a machine.

Dr. Hamada said, "Basically, it's a kind of dream to create a root that behaves like a life.

"And this will be the first step in that direction – that in itself will not be very useful in the short term.

"However, if we continue this effort, we could probably create a machine with automatic replication or a machine with automatic evolution, which is more a long-term vision.

"And another very exciting prospect for this realistic material concept is that we can now develop materials ourselves to make it even better."

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Using a system called DASH (DNA-based assembly and hierarchical synthesis), scientists at Cornell University have created a DNA-based material that can reorganize into new shapes and structures.

Like DNA, which contains all the instructions for metabolism and autonomous regeneration, the nucleotide sequence in the material also exhibits this trait.

Starting from a block of nucleotides of 55 units – the molecules that make up the DNA – the material was first multiplied hundreds of thousands of times to create chains.

The reaction was then injected with micro-fluid to provide energy and nucleotide building units necessary for growth.

As the liquid covered the material, the DNA developed its own strands, its growing growing end and its degrading end in an optimized equilibrium.

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In this way, he made his own locomotion, crawling forward, against the current, in the same way that the drool moves.

Yet, as the machine has realistic properties, researchers have a hard time asserting that it was not alive.

Professor Dan Luo of Cornell's Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering said, "Although this material has some properties of life, it is not alive, so all fears are misplaced.

"I understand that there are concerns about the hacking of life – gene modification – so people probably think that our research involves that, which we do not do.

"Our approach is based on something we already know.

"We basically build machines, so we understand all these mechanisms and their potential effects. If we design them, we can understand the effects. "

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