Taking advantage of the unique nature of DNA, engineers from Cornell University have created simple machines constructed of biomaterials with properties of living things.
Scientists from Cornell University have created a new biomaterial that’s not alive but exhibits the three key traits for life: metabolism, self-assembly, and organization. The goal for the researchers was not to create life but lifelike machines.
For any living organism to be maintained, there must be a system to manage the changes. This system must be taken into consideration that new cells must be generated and old cells and eventual debris should be swept away. Biosynthesis and biodegradation are two key elements of self-sustainability and require a third one; metabolism to maintain its form and functions.
Through this system, the DNA molecules are synthesized and assembled in hierarchical patterns, which results in something that can perpetuate a dynamic and autonomous process of growth and decay.
Using what scientists call DASH materials (DNA-based Assembly and Synthesis of Hierarchical) engineers built a DNA material with metabolic capabilities, as well as self-assembly and organization, three key features of life.
The machines created by Cornell University engineers can “autonomously emerge from its nanoscale building blocks and arrange itself – first into polymers and eventually mesoscale shapes.”
“We are introducing a brand-new, lifelike material concept powered by its very own artificial metabolism. We are not making something that’s alive, but we are creating materials that are much more lifelike than have ever been seen before,” explained Dan Luo, professor of biological and environmental engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
“The designs are still primitive, but they showed a new route to create dynamic machines from biomolecules,” says one of the researchers, Shogo Hamada from Cornell University.
“We are at a first step of building life-like robots by artificial metabolism.”
“Even from a simple design, we were able to create sophisticated behaviors like racing. Artificial metabolism could open a new frontier in robotics.”
The research has been published in Science Robotics.