Scientists create dynamic “living” object which has its own metabolism

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DNA molecule depiction
Illustration of DNA molecule with its basic strands, A,T,C,G (Credits - Wikimedia Commons)

Scientists at Cornell University have artificially synthesised a material which possesses three main traits of life namely metabolism, organisation and self-assembly. Such a task was possible as the researchers used the DNA so as to prepare machines which had the properties of living beings. The report has been published in the Science Robotics.

The technique which they used is named as DASH which stands for “DNA-based Assembly and Synthesis of Hierarchical” objects. The scientists prepared a DNA material which has the metabolism ability i.e the specific set of chemical processes which converts the food to the energy which is needed for sustaining life.

The three most important purposes of metabolism are generating energy from food for different cellular activities, converting food to the basic elements for proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates and removing several wastes such as nitrogenous wastes. Metabolic reactions are classified to two types, catabolic and anabolic.

However, scientists did not intend to create a living entity. They wanted to build a machine which has the functions of living beings. Professor Dan Luo, Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering mentioned that they are not preparing a different life but materials which are more lifelike than ever seen.

For any organism which is alive, there must be ways to coordinate the changes which take place continuously. Activities such as generation of new cells, removing the worn out ones, biodegradation are the key processes which are needed to maintain the form.

The most innovative aspect here is that the process of metabolism has been programmed and coded inside the DNA. It contains instructions for autonomous regeneration which then allows the object to grow on its own. Scientists have described metabolism in the paper as a method where the elements which make life are manufactured, synthesized, broken down and decomposed independently in a hierarchical way using biological processes.

With the help of the DASH method, the engineers manufactured a material which can independently emerge from its building blocks and arrange on its own. With the help of a 55 nucleotide base sequence, the molecules of DNA were multiplied several thousand times, and the DNA chains were created which were a few millimeters in size. After that, it was injected in a microfluidic device which provided energy in liquid flow and the building blocks for biosynthesis were made.

DNA prepared its new strands where the front end and the tail end were maintained in a suitable manner. Though the designs are primitive, this is a new possibility of making dynamic objects from biomolecules. Scientists are now working on ways so that the object can identify different stimuli and also seek for food when needed.

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