Research ArticleMICROROBOTS

Micrometer-sized molecular robot changes its shape in response to signal molecules

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Science Robotics  01 Mar 2017:
Vol. 2, Issue 4, eaal3735
DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aal3735

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Rapid progress in nanoscale bioengineering has allowed for the design of biomolecular devices that act as sensors, actuators, and even logic circuits. Realization of micrometer-sized robots assembled from these components is one of the ultimate goals of bioinspired robotics. We constructed an amoeba-like molecular robot that can express continuous shape change in response to specific signal molecules. The robot is composed of a body, an actuator, and an actuator-controlling device (clutch). The body is a vesicle made from a lipid bilayer, and the actuator consists of proteins, kinesin, and microtubules. We made the clutch using designed DNA molecules. It transmits the force generated by the motor to the membrane, in response to a signal molecule composed of another sequence-designed DNA with chemical modifications. When the clutch was engaged, the robot exhibited continuous shape change. After the robot was illuminated with light to trigger the release of the signal molecule, the clutch was disengaged, and consequently, the shape-changing behavior was successfully terminated. In addition, the reverse process—that is, initiation of shape change by input of a signal—was also demonstrated. These results show that the components of the robot were consistently integrated into a functional system. We expect that this study can provide a platform to build increasingly complex and functional molecular systems with controllable motility.

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