DNA Nanobots Turn Cockroaches Into Living, 8-Bit Computers

We already have the potential to reconfigure DNA into itty bitty bio-computers programmed to do our bidding. But now, scientists have used high numbers of those nanobots to successfully complete logic operations inside of actual, living organisms. Say hello to the computerized cockroach.

By exploiting the binding properties that give DNA its unique double-helix shape, Daniel Levner, a bioengineer at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, and his colleagues at Bar Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel were able to create DNA with sequences that unravel upon meeting a certain protein. More specifically, they were able to create DNA that unravels upon meeting a diseased cell, allowing it to release the drug carefully stashed inside it.

By loading these nanobots with fluorescent markers in addition to drugs, the researchers have been able to see whether or not their tiny bio-computers deliver the substances to their intended locations. And if you tweak these armies of nanobots to react to each other's expansions, you can voltron these tiny biological bits into a bigger biological computer. According to Ángel Goñi Moreno of the National Center for Biotechnology in Madrid, Spain:

This is the first time that biological therapy has been able to match how a computer processor works. Unlike electronic devices, which are suitable for our watches, our cars or phones, we can use these robots in life domains, like a living cockroach. This opens the door for environmental or health applications.

With the number of nanobots the team has been able to inject, they expect to be able to increase a single cockroach's computing power to something that would be the equivalent of a Commodore 64 or Atari 800. This would be particularly exciting for cancer treatments, considering the nanobots ability to target individual cells with high levels of precision, and scientists believe human trials could even begin within five years' time.

Let's hope they're right—god knows cockroaches don't any more help staying alive. [New Scientist]

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