London: In a breakthrough study, researchers have created and programmed robots the size of single molecule that can move independently across a nano-scale track.
The development, by Researchers from Columbia University, Arizona State University, the University of Michigan and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), marks an important advancement in the nascent fields of molecular computing and robotics. And the feat could someday lead to molecular robots that can fix individual cells or assemble nanotechnology products.
Led by Milan N. Stojanovic, the project involved reprogramming DNA molecules to perform in specific ways.
"Can you instruct a biomolecule to move and function in a certain way--researchers at the interface of computer science, chemistry, biology and engineering are attempting to do just that," Nature quoted Mitra Basu as saying.
Recent molecular robotics work has produced so-called DNA walkers, or strings of reprogrammed DNA with ``legs`` that enabled them to briefly walk.
Now the researchers has shown these molecular robotic spiders can in fact move autonomously through a specially-created, two-dimensional landscape.
The spiders acted in rudimentary robotic ways, showing they are capable of starting motion, walking for awhile, turning, and stopping.
In addition to be incredibly small--about 4 nanometers in diameter--the walkers are also move slowly, covering 100 nanometers in times ranging 30 minutes to a full hour by taking approximately 100 steps.
This is a significant improvement over previous DNA walkers that were capable of only about three steps.
While the field of molecular robotics is still emerging, it is possible that these tiny creations may someday have important medical applications.
"This work one day may lead to effective control of chronic diseases such as diabetes or cancer," said Basu.
The study was published in the latest edition of the journal Nature.
First Published: Friday, May 14, 2010, 21:05