Engineers at Cornell University have created a DNA-based biomaterial that is more life-like than ever seen before. Their creation is capable of self-assembly, organization, and metabolism, which are the three key traits of life.
Three Key Traits Of Life
For an organism to sustain itself, it must be able to remove old cells and create new ones. Biosynthesis and biodegradation are key to self-sustainability, and it must be capable of metabolism to sustain itself.
Using what they called DNA-based Assembly and Synthesis of Hierarchical (DASH) materials, engineers developed a unique biomaterial that has the basic properties of living things. From nanoscale building blocks, the material can arrange itself into polymers, then into mesoscale shapes.
The DNA molecules multiplied hundreds of thousands of times, and it synthesized new strands when they introduced a reaction solution. As it did, the front end of the material grew, and the tail end degraded, which created a moving motion that allowed the researchers to race sets of material with one another. All of its abilities were unaided by any external force.
So far, the material can only last for two cycles before it “dies,” but researchers say that its longevity can be extended.
Basically, the engineers at Cornell grew the machines, observed them metabolize, grow, evolve, race, and eventually decay. Such a creation could lead to self-reproducing, or perhaps even self-evolving machines. Now, they are working on how to make the material recognize stimuli and autonomously seek out food or light, or even to avoid it if it is harmful.
But even if their creation does present the three key traits of life, the engineers are still not saying that their design is alive.
“We are introducing a brand-new, lifelike 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 lifelike than have ever been seen before,” said Dan Luo of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who worked on the research.
The paper is published in Science Robotics.