Artificial Metabolism

This super futuristic robot makes use of materials called DASH (DNA-based Assembly and Synthesis of Hierarchical) that have in-built capabilities of metabolism (giving it that lifelike ‘eating’ ability) along with self-assembly and organization. This artificial metabolism helps the machine generate new cells, and sweep away the old ones, resulting in a dynamic and autonomous process of growth and decay.

Additionally, researchers also wanted to add the ‘locomotion ability’ to these materials, that can help them pit materials against each other in competitive races. So, with the help of DASH, a biomaterial was created, that could emerge from its nanoscale building blocks and arrange itself into polymers and different neoscale shapes. These DNA molecules were then multiplied hundreds of thousands of times, resulting in several chains of repeating DNA. This was followed by injecting a ‘reaction solution’ in a microfluidic device which helped provide a liquid flow of energy. This liquid flow of energy further helped offer locomotion properties to the materials.

“The designs are still primitive, but they showed a new route to create dynamic machines from biomolecules. Even from a simple design, we were able to create sophisticated behaviors like racing. Artificial metabolism could open a new frontier in robotics”, mentions Shogo Hamada, lecturer and research associate in the Luo lab in Cornell Chronicle.

The core part of this whole innovation lies in the programmed metabolism which is embedded in the DNA. “Everything from its ability to move and compete, all those processes are self-contained. There’s no external interference,” said Luo.

Researchers’ work has been funded in part by the National Science Foundation and supported by the Cornell NanoScale Science and Technology Facility, and Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscale Science.

For future works, researchers want to further enhance the system so that it can be used as a biosensor which can detect the presence of DNA and RNA. Researchers also plan on using this material to develop a dynamic template for making proteins without living cells. Researchers published a paper, earlier this month, on this experiment in Science Robotics.