Chilling New Material Appears to Be 'Alive'

Cornell University scientists point to a future of 'lifelike' robots
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 21, 2019 1:35 PM CDT

(Newser) – Scientists have created a new material—some are calling it a little machine—that's oddly lifelike and points to a possible future in which robots are "alive," TheNextWeb reports. In Science Robotics, Cornell engineers say they've invented a biomaterial based on artificial DNA that has its own metabolism, moves, absorbs resources for energy, grows and decays, and eventually dies. The materials are just a few millimeters long but can creep forward on their own, moving much like slime molds. "Everything from its ability to move and compete, all those processes are self-contained," Cornell professor Dan Luo tells the Cornell Chronicle. "There's no external interference."

It has life's three key traits—self-assembly, organization, and metabolism—but the latter is what's key. Called DNA-based Assembly and Synthesis of Hierarchical (DASH) material, it's programmed to regenerate on its own, something like early molecules did billions of years ago. In this case, scientists watched nanoscale building blocks in a reaction solution turn into polymer strands that then became tiny shapes; the reaction solution was injected into one end of them, which grew and moved forward while the "unfed" end degraded, per IFL Science. "The designs are still primitive, but they showed a new route to create dynamic machines from biomolecules," says lead author Shogo Hamada. "We are at a first step of building lifelike robots by artificial metabolism." (Read more science stories.)

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