All aboard the nanotrain network
Tiny self-assembling transport networks, powered by nano-scale motors and controlled by DNA, have been developed by scientists at Oxford University and Warwick University.
The system can construct its own network of tracks spanning tens of micrometres in length, transport cargo across the network and even dismantle the tracks.
The work is published in Nature Nanotechnology and was supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.
Researchers were inspired by the melanophore, used by fish cells to control their colour. Tracks in the network all come from a central point, like the spokes of a bicycle wheel. Motor proteins transport pigment around the network, either concentrating it in the centre or spreading it throughout the network. Concentrating pigment in the centre makes the cells lighter, as the surrounding space is left empty and transparent.
The system developed by the Oxford University team is very similar, and is built from DNA and a motor protein called kinesin. Powered by ATP fuel, kinesins move along the micro-tracks carrying control modules made from short strands of DNA. ‘Assembler’ nanobots are made with two kinesin proteins, allowing them to move tracks around to assemble the network, whereas the ‘shuttles’ only need one kinesin protein to travel along the tracks.