- Researchers develop a new kind of biomaterial using artificial DNA as its base.
- It has all lifelike properties, including metabolism and the ability to self-assemble and organize.
All living organisms maintain themselves by generating new cells and removing old ones. The two major components of self-sustainability are biosynthesis and biodegradation.
Materials that contain life are synthesized, arranged, dissipated and decomposed automatically in a hierarchical, controlled manner. So far, scientists haven’t been able to construct such materials from scratch by mimicking metabolism based on bioengineering.
However, there exist a number of techniques that enable the construction of lifelike material in a synthetic manner, analogous to part of metabolism. Inspired by such techniques, researchers at Cornell University have reported a bottom-up construction of dynamic biomaterials with properties of living things.
This new DNA material features all 3 key traits of life – metabolism, self-assembly, and organization. They haven’t invented something that is alive, but a lifelike material concept that hasn’t been seen before.
Creating Lifelike Material From Scratch
The team used a special material called DASH (DNA-based Assembly and Synthesis of Hierarchical) to construct a biomaterial with metabolism, self-assembly and self-organizing capabilities.
This new dynamic material can autonomously evolve from its tiny (atomic scale) building blocks and organize itself — initially into polymers and ultimately mesoscale structures.
Researchers began with a base seed sequence and multiplied the DNA molecules hundreds of thousands of times, producing a millimeter-size chain of repeating DNA. To provide essential building blocks for biosynthesis and liquid flow energy, they injected the reaction solution in a microfluidic device.
From there, the DNA started synthesizing its own strands: the material’s front end started growing while its tail started degrading, optimizing the balance. This led material creep forward against the flow, creating its own locomotion.
Credit: Cornell University
The team then made different sets of the material compete against each other in a race. The winners were selected by the randomness of the system instead of the inherent advantages of specific shapes.
This biomaterial can last for 2 cycles of synthesis and degradation before expiring. Its longevity could be further extended, which may result in subsequent lifelike material ‘generations’ as it self-replicates.
Although designs are primitive, they demonstrate a new way of developing dynamic machines from biomolecules. Researchers were able to build complex behaviors such as racing, from a simple design.
Artificial metabolism can also open new doors in robotics. Researchers are now trying to create a material that can respond to stimuli such as food or light, and perhaps even identify danger.
Overall, the findings show that it’s possible to create biomaterials that can self-evolve, creating better and better versions of themselves. It could also be used to produce new nanomaterials, proteins, and identify pathogens.