A system that allows researchers
to control a tiny cellular transport network has been developed by researchers at
the Universities of Oxford and Warwick.
In the system DNA acts like a foreman on
the nanoscale construction site, assembling and directing the operation of shuttles that transport molecular cargo along cellular components called microtubules.
'DNA is an excellent building block for constructing synthetic molecular
systems, as we can program it to do whatever we need,' said Adam Wollman, who
conducted the research at the University of Oxford's Department
This set-up served as the
inspiration for the system. 'One of the more sci-fi visions of nanotechnology
is the creation of moving "nanobots", but it turns out that nature
got there first', said Wollman, speaking to the online magazine Motherboard.
The Oxford team fused the
kinesin with a short, synthetic DNA strand loaded with information for either
assembly of the network or transportation. 'Assembler' nanobots were made with
two kinesin proteins, allowing them to move tracks around to assemble the
network, whereas the 'shuttles' only need one kinesin protein to travel along
The group used fluorescent green
dyes as cargo to demonstrate the system, a method inspired by melanophore, a pigment used by fish cells to
control their colour.
'We first use assemblers to arrange the track into spokes, triggered
by the introduction of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), then send in shuttles with fluorescent green cargo which spread out
across the track', explains Wollman. 'When we add more ATP, the shuttles all
cluster in the centre of the track where the spokes meet'.
The system also allows the researchers to reverse the process, or 'demolish'
the site, by programming the shuttles to signal the cargo-carrying shuttles to
release the fluorescent cargo into the environment and dismantle the tracks.
The developers of the self-construction system say it has the potential
to speed up chemical reactions used in biotechnology by bringing the necessary
compounds together into a central hub.