Source: Enzo Kopperger et al/Science

Microscopic DNA-based robots have an enormous potential when it comes to analyzing biochemical samples or manufacturing active substances for medical drugs. The technology already exists, but it is far too slow to use on a large scale.

Now, a team of German researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has managed to control the nanotubes with the help of an electric field, making them work 100,000 times faster. According to researchers from Munich University of Technology in an article published in the scientific journal Science.

The concept they show is a 25 nanometer-long DNA robot in the form of an arm that can be used to move around molecules or nanoparticles. By reckoning that DNA molecules are negatively charged, researchers can quickly and effectively steer the nanobots with targeted electrical impulses.

Source: Enzo Kopperger et al/Science

So far, chemical interactions have been used between DNA molecules to move nanotubes, but the new technology makes the robots speed up considerably. Tasks that took minutes or hours previously, is now done in mere minutes.

“This experiment shows that the molecular machine can be moved electrically. Thanks to the electronic control process, we can initiate movements on the time scale milliseconds, which is 100,000 times faster than previously achieved on biochemical routes”

– Professor Friedrich Simmel in a press release.

Enzo Kopperger et al. A self-assembled nanoscale robotic arm controlled by electric fields DOI: 10.1126/science.aao4284