A nano-robot built entirely from DNA to explore cell processes
Nanobots are incredibly tiny robots, down at a microscopic scale. The name comes from a combination of a nanometre, the scale on which the devices are built, and robot. The term nanobot is occasionally used to describe a macro-robot that can interact at the nanoscale using incredibly tiny tools.
The cells in our body are subjected to mechanical forces exerted on a microscopic level, triggering biological signals essential to carry out many cell processes involved in the normal functioning of our body or the development of diseases.
For example, touch feeling is partly conditional on applying mechanical forces on specific cell receptors. In addition to communication, these receptors are sensitive to mechanical forces known as mechanoreceptors which enable the regulation of other vital biological processes such as blood vessel constriction, pain perception, breathing or even the detection of sound waves in the ear, etc.
The dysfunction of this cellular mechanosensitive is involved in many diseases — such as cancer. Cancer cells migrate within the body by sounding and constantly adapting to the mechanical properties of the surrounding microenvironment. Such adaptation is only possible because specific forces are detected by mechanoreceptors that transmit the information to the cell cytoskeleton.
The working principle of these nano-bots is based on the DNA origami method.
DNA origami refers to an assembly technique that folds single-stranded DNA template molecules into target structures. This is done by annealing templates with hundreds of short DNA strands.
DNA origami enabled the researchers to design a “nano-robot” composed of three DNA origami structures. It is of nanometric size and therefore compatible with a human cell’s size. It makes it possible to apply and control a force with a resolution of 1 piconewton, thus giving forces at high accuracy.
The team of researchers began by coupling the robot with a molecule that recognises a mechanoreceptor. This made it possible to direct the robot to some of our cells and specifically apply forces to targeted mechanoreceptors localised on the cells’ surface to activate them.
Such a tool is precious for basic research, as it could be used to understand better the molecular mechanisms involved in cell mechanosensitivity and discover new cell receptors sensitive to mechanical forces.
Nanotechnology has been an exciting technology both in fiction and real life. It has many uses both in technical fields and medical fields. It can help to reduce the weight and power consumption of devices. In medical fields, it can help detect diseases easily and cure diseases. Nanobots have high efficiency and have fewer side effects.
With this new technology functioning of diseases such as cancer at the microscopic level can be studied, and one day with nanobots, it can also be cured.
Yalmarthy NV Ronnit gupta is the writer of this article. Views expressed, and information provided belong solely to the author.