Scientists Create Smart DNA Gel

This brings to mind the only and only Flubber. Robin Williams, the mad scientist, makes a lovable jelly that proves very difficult to control, wreaking havoc on the neighbourhood. The scientists at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) have been kinder! They have developed an artificial dynamic gel which contains DNA and responds to stimuli after it is fed ATPs. Yes, this is exactly how a cell might act. The brains behind this magic gel: Omar Saleh and Deborah Fygenson. Saleh explains:

This is a whole new kind of responsive gel, or what some might call a ‘smart’ material


The Wondrous Gel

The gel is fitted with nano-scale filaments. The team can then regulate the stiffness of the filaments and how much they are tangled up with each other using the DNA design. They used the bacterial motor protein called FtsK50C, which can bind to certain specific surfaces. The nanorods can then shorten and come together, making the contractions required for movements.

What is even more fascinating is that the gel uses Adenosine Tri Phosphate (ATP), which is the energy currency that a living cell uses. The great advantage of this gel is that it can be readily implanted into a living organism. This gel thus shows, as Saleh puts it, “quantitatively shows similar active fluctuations and mechanics to cells.”

In case you’re unfamiliar with biological motors, let me tell you that there are a variety of biological substances which can act as motors. The motors are however very specific in their activity. There is still a large gap in our understanding of biological motors and this can prove to be a major step in plugging that gap.

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Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.