Daniel Levner, bioengineer at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute along with his colleagues at Bar Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel turned cockroaches into living computers with the help of DNA nanobots; the aim of the project is to identify or treat illnesses with uncommon “sophistication.” The team does not exclude the possibility of turning living animals into more powerful computers either and, in as few years, preliminary trials on human beings could begin. Nanomedicine was also embraced by tech companies like IBM, which now focuses on deploying nanomaterials to fight illnesses like HIV, tuberculosis and dengue fever.
Cockroaches have been turned into living computers with the help of DNA nanobots, which travel around the insect’s body and interact with the animal’s cells. The project was launched by Daniel Levner, bioengineer at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute and with his colleagues at Bar Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel and, although the insect’s computer power does not exceed the capability of an Atari 800 or Commodore 64 from the 1980, according to Angel Goni Moreno of the National Center for Biotechnology in Madrid, Spain, the nanobots will be adjusted so that “the computations will soon become higher.”
The nano-sized entities made of DNA can perform the same type of processes as a silicon-based processor and their primary purpose is to exploit the binding properties of DNA. The DNA computers, also known as origami robots thanks to their ability to work by folding and unfolding strands of DNA interact with the insect’s cells. When the nanobots unfold, they dispense drugs that are carried in their folds, so this method could help cancer treatments have a better target and drop the package only on diseased cells.
The study’s co-author, Ido Bachelet of the Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials at Bar Ilan University believes that the team has already exceeded the experimental phase and can now carry out “any kind of computation.” One of the greatest advantages of turning cockroaches into living computers with the help of nanobots is represented by cancer treatments , which could target only the damaged cells and leave the healthy ones intact. However, the study must also overcome the body’s immune response which is automatically triggered when a foreign object enters the system.
IBM Nanomedicine Program
Levner’s study could shed some light on the possibility of treating cancer without disrupting the healthy cells, but IBM is one tech giant that already experimented with nanobots and their ability to use electrostatic attraction to target cells infected with MRSA. Dubbed “ninja particles,” these polymer-based nanoparticles leave the body once they have done their jobs, thanks to their biodegradable content.
Although IBM’s first product of this kind will most likely be an antimicrobial product to clean surfaces in hospitals, the materials related to nanomedicine programs could vary from gels, soaps, shampoos and toothbrushes covered in germ-fighting materials. For now, tech giant IBM has launched a research lab in Africa and aims at using nanomaterials to fight severe illnesses like HIV, dengue fever and tuberculosis. Until such products receive approval from the EPA or FDA, Levner and his team are turning cockroaches into living computers with the help of DNA nanobots. Bachelet even considers that the project is so advanced, that “there is no reason why preliminary trials on humans can’t start within five years.”
By Gabriela Motroc