Researchers have successfully used DNA building blocks to construct a motor capable of navigating a programmable network of tracks with multiple switches.

Findings were published in the Jan. 22 online edition of the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

The research involves a “technology of DNA origami.” It builds upon previous work with engines traveling on straight tracks.

Strands of DNA molecules are sequenced in a way to cause them to self-assemble into desired 2D and 3D structures.

Scientists built a network of tracks and switches atop the DNA origami tiles, making it possible for motor molecules to travel along the rail systems.

We have demonstrated it is not only possible to build nanoscale devices that function autonomously but that we can cause such devices to produce predictable outputs based on different, controllable starting conditions,” said Dr. Masayuki Endo of Kyoto University’s Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS).

Researchers said the development could lead to system such as programmable molecular assembly lines and sophisticated sensors.

“We are really at an early stage in designing DNA origami-based engineering systems,” said Prof. Hiroshi Sugiyama of iCeMS.

“The promise is great, but at the same time there are still many technical hurdles to overcome in order to improve the quality of the output. This is just the beginning for this new and exciting field.”

The article is entitled “A DNA-based molecular motor that can navigate a network of tracks.”

Researchers include Dr. Shelley Wickham at Oxford University