Engineers create ‘lifelike’ material with artificial metabolism

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In New York, tapping into the unique nature of the molecule, Cornell engineers have created simple machines constructed of biomaterials with properties of living things. Using what they call DASH (DNA-based Assembly and Synthesis of Hierarchical) materials, Cornell engineers constructed a DNA material with capabilities of metabolism, in addition to self-assembly and organization – three key traits of life.

“We are introducing a brand-new, lifelike material concept powered by its very own artificial metabolism. We are not making something that’s alive, but we are creating materials that are much more lifelike than have ever been seen before,” said Dan Luo, professor of biological and environmental engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Using DASH, the Cornell engineers created a biomaterial that can autonomously emerge from its nanoscale building blocks and arrange itself – first into polymers and eventually mesoscale shapes. Starting from a 55-nucleotide base seed sequence, the DNA molecules were multiplied hundreds of thousands times, creating chains of repeating DNA a few millimeters in size. The reaction solution was then injected in a microfluidic device that provided a liquid flow of energy and the necessary building blocks for biosynthesis.