The Viridian Design Movement

Viridian Note 00298: DNA Motor

Bruce Sterling []

Key Concepts: nanotechnology, transorganic principle, mechanical DNA devices

Attention Conservation Notice: Way out-there and also way too small to see.


Contemporary art on the theme of genetics. Includes Eduardo Kac of green bunny fame, and Viridian darlings Bureau of Inverse Technology.

Ars Electronica offering handsome sums in prizes for interactive art. Entry deadline March 31, 02002.

Viridian and British? Buy the pathetic wreckage of Enron's London office at an online auction! ndex.html

Humiliated Houston baseball team flees Enron's very name.

NATURE magazine "A Robust DNA Mechanical Device Controlled by Hybridization Topology," Nature, January 3, 2002.

Technology Research News, January 16, 2002 article by Kimberly Patch

"Morphing DNA makes motor

By Kimberly Patch 

"(...) Researchers at New York University have taken a significant step forward (...)

"The researchers demonstrated the mechanism by making a four-step rotary motor out of DNA. (((What fresh hell is this?)))

"The motor is a four-stranded DNA molecule that, prompted by separate strands of DNA, will go through a mechanical cycle over and over again. Because the process is a reversible cycle, there are no waste products. (((It's DNA. It's a motor. It doesn't pollute. Oh my goodness.)))

"The four-stranded DNA molecule is essentially a pair of double helixes of DNA connected at several points along their lengths. When the researchers add molecules of control DNA to a solution full of the motor molecules, the short, single-stranded control molecules join with the larger molecules and rearrange them by connecting two of the double strands in one place and cutting them in another.

"The researchers then remove the control strands using fuel strands of DNA, which are also short single-stranded lengths of DNA. This leaves the motor molecule in a different physical shape than when it started == the end of one double strand of the DNA is rotated 180 degrees relative to the strands next to it. (((So you've got to dunk the whole mechanical DNA mess into its "fuel" == but then it neatly warps and unwarps.)))

"The process can be reversed by adding a different type of control strand to the solution, and that control strand can also be removed by a different type of fuel strand after it changes the molecule back. 'The system can be cycled numerous times... and there are no breakdown products,' said Nadrian Seeman, a chemistry professor at New York University.

"The process can be adapted to many different sequences of DNA, said Seeman. 'Many different species of this device can be made by changing the sequences in the region where the... strands bind,' he said. (((For instance, consider the human DNA that gave you opposable, twiddling thumbs. I reckon we could goose that stuff up to eight, nine hundred RPM.)))

"This means a wide range of similar rotary devices can be created by changing the fuel strands and the places where they bind, he said. Ten different molecules can result in 1,024 different structures, for instance.

"The researchers are currently working on a method to insert the DNA devices into molecular lattices, said Seeman. (((DNA engine blocks.))) This would enable still more structures. An array of four by four molecules, for instance, could produce 65,536 different shapes. 'This may enable us to build nanofabrication facilities to produce new molecular species,' he said. (((How about making classical Turing machines out of 'em? We can compute by sliding long tapes made of gattaca!)))

"The range of motion the molecular motors can produce ranges from .04 to 4 nanometers, but the researchers have produced motions as large as 35 nanometers using arrays, according to Seeman. A nanometer is one millionth of a millimeter. On this scale, an E. coli bacterium is a relative giant, with a girth of 1 micron, or 1,000 nanometers. A line of ten carbon atoms measures about one nanometer. (((Vroom!)))

"The research is 'great stuff,' said Erik Winfree, an assistant professor of computer science and computation and neural systems at the California Institute of Technology. The method is a step forward in terms of DNA mechanics, he said. 'It expands our toolbox for designing molecular machines.' (((A veritable galaxy of mischief here. Paging Al Qaeda.)))

"The research is ultimately aimed at making nanorobotics practical, according to Seeman. 'It could be used to configure a molecular pegboard or control molecular assemblers. The ability to achieve many different shapes means that you can create many different patterns; different patterns in a timed sequence are the essence of a machine or robot,' he said. (((Nanofreaks always want to make those goofy little Foresight Institute nanorobots. If you've got nonpolluting DNA that twists on command when you wash it, why not just use that as your design material? It's a room temperature, wriggling, molecular pegboard. Make clothes out of it. Make shoes. Make laundry soap. Forget the imaginary robots. Come on.)))

"Molecular machines could be used to assemble drugs molecule-by-molecule, and molecular robots may eventually work inside the human body. (((Yeah, sure. "Body by Chrysler." Who do you sue when those things crash and break down?)))

"It will be about a decade before the method can be used to make practical devices, said Seeman.

"Seeman's research colleagues were Hao Yan, Xiaoping Zhang and Zhiyong Shen. They published the research in the January 3, 2002 issue of Nature. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Office of Naval Research (ONR), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)."

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