DNA “origami” nanobots revolutionize medicine

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

This is a picture of the Blaberus discoidalis roach, which was successfully implanted with nanobot technology. Once the medical tech is further improved, it can be tested on humans.

Cockroaches may seem like disgusting pests, but they are great tools in the name of science. In the past, these critters have been used to test emergency rescue controls, and now, the six-legged bugs have been injected with programmable biological nanobots – basically, tiny robots that can work together inside of living organisms to carry out commands.

The small robots aren’t made out of metal, but rather DNA – the stringy molecule inside of cells that dictates how an organism grows. The researchers designed the robots after a lidded box that can carry certain chemicals inside. Then, when the microscopic boxes bump into specific molecules, the lid will open and release the chemical inside. These special DNA are nicknamed “origami” robots, after the art of folding paper into recognizable shapes like swans.

Since the researchers were able to program which of the nanobots would open for what, they essentially created a computer-like system that can accurately measure molecules inside of a given organism. When the DNA origami robots were injected into a living cockroach, they were able to monitor and control which molecules made it to which cells.

This level of control has huge potential in the medical field! For example, some cancer treatments require a patient to take medicine that targets rapidly dividing cells. However, that means it also ends up going after hair cells, blood cells, and stomach cells, because they divide quickly. This is why cancer patients usually lose their hair and experience nausea (feeling sick to the stomach). Programmable nanobots can avoid these negative side effects by intelligently delivering treatment directly to the cancerous cells, saving patients unnecessary discomfort.

The invention’s practical uses in the medical field are beyond count. It can be used for everything from delivering the proper materials to fix damage in the body, to collecting biological molecules that doctors can use to understand someone’s illness better. Researchers are planning to test their creation on humans in the near future.

Featured image courtesy of Discovery on YouTube. Image of cockroach courtesy of Politikaner on Wikimedia.