A fleet of migrating birds, shoals of fish, clouds of fireflies – each a graceful display of coordination and control that makes a swarm stronger than its individual members. Rather than living creatures, these are strands of DNA artificially coloured red and green, coming together in a golden swirl. Each of these ‘nanorobots’ is 1000 times smaller than a firefly. Chemical signals written with DNA (an example of DNA computing) trigger the robots to flock together or break formation. A different swarm responds to bursts of light. While the technology is at an early stage, researchers hope to replicate the power of natural swarms – creating complex shapes and structures that are able to divide labour when set a task. Getting the principles right in the lab is the first step towards artificial muscles, drug-delivering robots and particles that fly through our bodies at the flick of a switch.
Written by John Ankers
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.