Researchers at Ohio State University have developed new software that allows them to quickly design and simulate DNA nanorobots. Previously, it was a challenge to design such small devices, but now researchers can trace their design in a matter of minutes. DNA-based devices have an important promise as medical technologies with possible applications in drug delivery and diagnosis.
Researchers continue to pursue the science fiction dream of small machines that can enter our bodies and help us heal. This latest development brings this reality a little closer. The development of robots and DNA-based devices on such a small scale poses a unique set of challenges. The new software, called MagicDNA, aims to streamline this process and acts as a replacement for older types of software that involved more thorough manual design.
“Researchers have been doing this for several years with slower tools with tedious manual steps,” said Carlos Castro, a researcher involved in the study, in an Ohio State press release. “But now, nanodevices that may have taken a few days to design for us now only take a few minutes.”
The new software allows researchers to design objects in 3D, which facilitates the development of more complex objects. Researchers can also use a “bottom-up” design approach, in which individual DNA strands can be manipulated instead, or a “top-down” approach where the overall shape of the object and the software automatically completes it with DNA strands, or a combination of both approaches.
“Previously, we could build devices with up to six individual components and connect them with joints and hinges and try to execute complex movements,” said Hai-Jun Su, another researcher involved in the study. “With this software, it is not difficult to manufacture robots or other devices with more than 20 components that are much easier to control. It is a big step in our ability to design nanodevices that can perform the complex actions we want them to do. “
The software also allows scientists to simulate how the designed device can be moved to help them fix any defects before construction. “As you make these structures more complex, it’s hard to predict exactly how they will be and how they will behave,” Castro said. “It is essential to be able to simulate the real operation of our devices. Otherwise, we will waste a lot of time. “
So far, researchers have successfully tested some of their designs in the real world. They have hopes that their software will pave the way for functional DNA robots for therapeutic applications, including devices that can recognize a pathogen in the bloodstream.
“But a more complex device can not only detect that something bad is happening, but it can also react by releasing a drug or capturing the pathogen,” Castro added. “We want to be able to design robots that respond in a particular way to a stimulus or that move in a certain way.”
Study a Materials of nature: Integrated computer-aided design and engineering for DNA sets