Cornell University scientists create new “life-like” material capable of metabolism

By Digit NewsDesk | Published on Apr 24 2019
Cornell University scientists create new “life-like” material capable of metabolism
HIGHLIGHTS

Cornell University scientists create DNA with artificial metabolism.

The new material is capable of sustaining growth and decay.

While far from “Living Robots,” the new development is a major one in the field of bio-engineering.

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Cornell engineers have reached a new milestone by creating simple machines that exhibit properties similar to living beings. These bots utilise a new “life-like” material called DNA-based Assembly and Synthesis of Hierarchical materials or DASH that has its own artificial metabolism and is capable of exhibiting three key traits of life, self-assembly and organisation. This is said to be a first in the field of robotics and bioengineering. While some reports call it “Living Robots,” these machines are far from achieving full-fledged autonomous metabolism. “We are introducing a brand-new, life-like material concept powered by its very own artificial metabolism. We are not making something that’s alive, but we are creating materials that are much more life-like than have ever been seen before,” said Dan Luo, professor of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell.

The new material was created by Luo, along with research associate Shogo Hamada and their research was published on April 10 in Science Robotics. As mentioned above, the researchers used DASH to create a biomaterial that is capable of arranging and assembling itself into patterns in a hierarchical manner, which is said to sustain an autonomous process of anabolism and catabolism, or as a layman would call it, growth and decay. The biomaterial can automatically build itself from nanoscale into polymers first and later move on to mesoscale shapes. 

While the research does sound exciting and promising, the material still requires external media to provide energy and materials necessary for biosynthesis. “Starting from a 55-nucleotide base seed sequence, the DNA molecules were multiplied hundreds of thousands times, creating chains of repeating DNA a few millimeters in size. The reaction solution was then injected in a microfluidic device that provided a liquid flow of energy and the necessary building blocks for biosynthesis,” reads a Cornell Chronicle article. 

As the medium required to grow the biomaterial was introduced, the DNA is reported to synthesise its own strands. As per the report, the DNA exhibits locomotion against the flow of energy. All this was made possible with programmed metabolism that was embedded into the DNA material, which has the instructions for metabolism and automatic regeneration. 

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