Robotic systems currently transform the way we work and live – they greatly speed up and enhance manufacturing processes, they provide assistance in diverse areas such as health care or environmental remediation, they perform in environments inaccessible, too harsh, or too dangerous for humans. In essence, robotic systems comprise sensors and actuators connected to and coordinated by an information-processing unit. Sensors provide information about the environment, which is evaluated by a computer and then used to decide on necessary actions – typically mechanical motion. Over recent years, researchers have developed the concept of “molecular robotic systems”, in which robotic functions are scaled to biomolecular or even small-molecule systems. This is motivated by dramatic progress in the chemical sciences that has resulted in the development of a huge variety of molecular sensors, nanoscale machines, and molecular computing devices. Implementation of basic functions such as, e.g., controlled rotation and linear motion by molecular machines has just been recognized with the award of the 2016 Nobel Prize.

Much more complex function can be achieved with artificial machinery made from nucleic acids, and DNA is one of the most promising molecular materials for the control and organization of matter at the nanoscale to date.[1] DNA nanotechnology is based on the specificity and programmability of interactions between oligonucleotides that can be controlled through design of base sequences. In contrast to most other molecules used for the realization of molecular machinery, DNA molecules can be programmed through design of their base sequences to form well-defined molecular structures, which can be combined and integrated into more complex systems. Around 100 research groups worldwide are dedicated to DNA nanotechnology and the field is closely followed in industry and in other research fields. The partners of the ETN DNA-Robotics constitute the leading research groups in DNA nanotechnology in Europe and have now come together to develop a framework for integrated biomolecular robotics.

[1] Seeman, N. C. Structural DNA Nanotechnology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2016.