What's a DNA robot, and how could it change medicine?

Author's Note
Senior Staff Writer Robert Lamb
Senior Staff Writer Robert Lamb
HowStuffWorks 2009

I had to lash one hand behind my back to avoid making the obvious "Fantastic Voyage" or "Innerspace" references in this article. In a way, however, the films do the public understanding of nanotechnology -- especially medical nanotechnology -- a disservice. Visions of miniaturized submarines in the bloodstream display a top-down view of nanotechnology. In reality, we're looking at a bottom-up system, in which small machines are built of tiny materials to perform their work on an ever-so-minute scale. You don't build a sub the size of DNA; you build it OUT of DNA.

I couldn't help but think of the DNA robot concept in terms of a gift-wrapped package containing a small bomb. Imagine this package on the parlor of an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery. It will only open in the hands of a killer.

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  • Danigelis, Alyssa. "DNA Robots Deliver Deadly Punch to Bad Cells." Discovery News. Feb. 16, 2012. (May 24, 2012) http://news.discovery.com/tech/dna-robot-nanotechnology-cancer-cells-120216.html
  • Katsnelson, Alla. "DNA robot could kill cancer cells." Nature. Feb 16, 2012. (May 24, 2012) http://www.nature.com/news/dna-robot-could-kill-cancer-cells-1.10047
  • Sanderson, Katherine. "Bioengineering: What to make with DNA origami." Nature. March 10, 2010. (May 24, 2012) http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100310/full/464158a.html
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). "Nanotechnology 101." March 3, 2011. (May 24, 2012) http://www.epa.gov/nanoscience/basicinfo.htm