It may look like some diagrams and a few blobs, but what you're seeing here is nothing short of a nanotech revolution. Four nanorobots made of DNA are interacting on an "assembly line" in order to build a tiny device.

Today in Nature, a group of researchers announced they'd successfully operated the first assembly line populated entirely by nanobots. The bots in question are molecular machines made from strands of DNA, and each one has four "feet" that walk on a specially-prepared surface covered in chemicals that direct the bot's motion. It also has three "arms" to carry cargo - in this case various sizes of gold particles. These gold particles can bind together into eight different products.

In their experiment, the scientists succeeded in guiding a nanobot to pick up the three gold particles, each held by other bots. It walked up to each bot, grabbed the gold cargo, and moved on to the next bot to do the same thing.


On the left in the drawing above, you can see a diagram showing what's going on (click to enlarge), whereas on the right you can see an atomic force micrograph of the pieces of gold being gathered by the nanobot (you can't actually see the nanobot). Here's what the scientists say is happening in the picture:

A release from Nature explains:


Nadrian Seeman and colleagues create a nanoscale ‘assembly line', in which DNA walkers move past programmable DNA machines that can deliver ‘cargo' (gold nanoparticles) to the walkers. In addition to four ‘legs', the DNA walkers have three ‘hands' that accept the cargo. The assembly line has three DNA machines, each of which holds a different type of cargo, and can be set either to transfer its cargo to the walker, or to withhold it. In this way, the nano-assembler can be programmed to produce eight (23) different ‘products', all with usefully high yields.

[University of Wisconsin chemist] Lloyd Smith notes that the assembly line of Seeman and colleagues marks a milestone in DNA nanotechnology, in using ‘systems of nanomachines, rather than individual devices' to perform an operation.

You're witnessing the birth of the next industrial revolution - except it's happening at nanoscale, and every single machine is made of DNA.

Full scientific article via Nature