Nano Robots Build Molecules

Scientists at The University of Manchester have created the world’s first ‘molecular robot’ that is capable of performing basic tasks including building other molecules.

The tiny robots, which are a millionth of a millimetre in size, can be programmed to move and build molecular cargo, using a tiny robotic arm.

Each individual robot is capable of manipulating a single molecule and is made up of just 150 carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms. To put that size into context, a billion billion of these robots piled on top of each other would still only be the same size as a single grain of salt. The robots operate by carrying out chemical reactions in special solutions which can then be controlled and programmed by scientists to perform the basic tasks.

In the future such robots could be used for medical purposes, advanced manufacturing processes and even building molecular factories and assembly lines.

All matter is made up of atoms and these are the basic building blocks that form molecules. Our robot is literally a molecular robot constructed of atoms just like you can build a very simple robot out of Lego bricks, explains Professor David Leigh, who led the research at University’s School of Chemistry. “The robot then responds to a series of simple commands that are programmed with chemical inputs by a scientistIt is similar to the way robots are used on a car assembly line. Those robots pick up a panel and position it so that it can be riveted in the correct way to build the bodywork of a car. So, just like the robot in the factory, our molecular version can be programmed to position and rivet components in different ways to build different products, just on a much smaller scale at a molecular level.”

The research has been published in Nature.


Shape-shifting Molecular Robots

A research group at Tohoku University and Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology has developed a molecular robot consisting of biomolecules, such as DNA and protein. The molecular robot was developed by integrating molecular machines into an artificial cell membrane. It can start and stop its shape-changing function in response to a specific DNA signal.

This is the first time that a molecular robotic system has been able to recognize signals and control its shape-changing function. What this means is that molecular robots could, in the near future, function in a way similar to living organisms.

Using sophisticated biomolecules such as DNA and proteins, living organisms perform important functions. For example, white blood cells can chase bacteria by sensing chemical signals and migrating toward the target. In the field of chemistry and synthetic biology, elemental technologies for making various molecular machines, such as sensors, processors and actuators, are created using biomolecules. A molecular robot is an artificial molecular system that is built by integrating molecular machines. The researchers believe that realization of such a system could lead to a significant breakthrough – a bio-inspired robot designed on a molecular basis.

molecular robot

The molecular robot developed by the research group is extremely small – about one millionth of a meter – similar in size to human cells. It consists of a molecular actuator, composed of protein, and a molecular clutch, composed of DNA. The shape of the robot’s body (artificial cell membrane) can be changed by the actuator, while the transmission of the force generated by the actuator can be controlled by the molecular clutch. The research group demonstrated through experiments that the molecular robot could start and stop the shape-changing behavior in response to a specific DNA signal.

The findings were published in Science Robotics.