Skip to main content

DNA-Based Modular Nanorobotics

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - DNA-Robotics (DNA-Based Modular Nanorobotics)

Reporting period: 2018-01-01 to 2019-12-31

Robots are everywhere. They mow your lawn, vacuum your floor, make your new car, just to mention a few examples. No matter their function, they all consist of sensors and actuators and they are currently transforming the way we work and live.
The DNA-Robotics consortium aims to bring the robots into the nanometer scale and take the first steps of using molecular robots in future medical and technological applications. We will take advantage of DNA’s sequence programmability to design self-assembling structural and functional modules that can be combined to perform certain functions. In essence, DNA can be used to design and build any arbitrary shape and structure at the nanoscale, and the designed structures can even be combined and integrated into even more complex systems.
With this in mind, leading European research groups in the field of DNA nanotechnology collaborate to exploit the advantages of DNA to take the field to the next level and develop the field of DNA robotics. Each of the research groups has expert knowledge within different topics ranging from physics over chemistry to molecular biology and this combination will create a synergy effect, which will increase both impact and interdisciplinarity of the project.

To achieve the goal of creating modules for a DNA-based robot, we have divided the project into different work packages, as describe below:
- Integrative structural design
- Programming and signal transfer
- Sensing and signaling
- Actuation
- Translocation
In addition to the design of different modules for the above functions, we will combine the modules and explore the integrated function in a biological setting.

An integral and very important part of the DNA-Robotics project is the education of 15 early stage researchers (ESRs). For a period of 36 months, the ESRs will be working at seven different locations with one of the nine principal investigators as their mentor and supervisor. During their employment, the network will ensure that they receive high-quality training, which includes both network training events, secondments within the network, and participation in scientific conferences in addition to the predefined hands-on training project at their home institution.
The 15 early stage researchers (ESRs), who will be working on the predefined projects, have all been recruited. During our first three network events, we have of course focused on the topics “Communication Skills”, “Molecular Robotics”, and “Grant Writing and Management”. To encourage and improve collaborations, we have also prioritized to allocate time for the ESRs to get to know each other and the principal investigators by having presentations, ESR discussion sessions, conference dinners, and so forth at each event.

Before the ESRs were recruited, the management team ensured that the DNA-Robotics website and SoMe platforms were created. Our lab wiki, an online platform for sharing and uploading information, and the template for the personal career development plan was also set up before the ESRs started. Following their recruitment, each of the 15 ESRs have contributed to our online blog on a regular basis with posts about themselves and their background but also on predefined topics as part of our online lecture series and the online science exhibition.

Scientifically, the ESRS have all started their predefined research projects according to the work packages described above and the fundamental designs for the DNA robot has thus been initiated. Some groups are developing sensor functionalities, while other groups are working on the mechanical functions that together can be integrated into a robot. A few examples of our scientific achievement so far include:
- Validation of the assembly of three modules
- Development of a module for pH sensing
- Functional translocation module based on rotary protein
- Development of a plasmonic switch
In DNA-Robotics, we have an ambitious aim beyond the state of the art to create modules for a plug-and-play platform, where an end user can choose the specific modules necessary for a given purpose.
One of the scientific impacts, besides the creation of the plug-and-play platform, is the set-up of a public open repository where designs, fabrications instructions and detailed description of parts and their interactions will be collected and organized.
In the project so far we have created new designs and mechanisms for construction of DNA-based nanostructures and have made significant progress beyond the state of the art on development of new communication pathways, translocation systems and sensing systems that will be revealed in more detail in future publications.