A research paper published in the scientific journal Plos One, titled Thought-Controlled Nanoscale Robots in a Living Host, has garnered a lot of attention this week.
Israeli computer science graduate Shachar Arnon and his team have found a way to combine the exciting with the somewhat terrifying by developing remote-controlled nanobots that can operate in a living subject using nothing but the power of thought.
“We report a new type of brain-machine interface enabling a human operator to control nanometre-size robots inside a living animal by brain activity. Recorded EEG patterns are recognised online by an algorithm, which in turn controls the state of an electromagnetic field,” wrote Arnon and his team in their paper.
The bots were created using folding DNA, a method created by Dr Ido Bachelet
This field heats up billions of tiny mechanically operated DNA origami robots which were fabricated from DNA Origami (the folding of DNA to create 2D and 3D shapes). These robots were made with gates directly from the living hosts’ DNA strands. These robots would then be controlled to activate a bioactive payload of medicine causing a cellular reaction of the host.
“As a proof of principle we demonstrate activation of DNA robots to cause a cellular effect inside the insect Blaberus discoidalis, by a cognitively straining task,” wrote Arnon and his team. “This technology enables the online switching of a bioactive molecule on and off in response to a subject’s cognitive state, with potential implications for therapeutic control in disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, and attention deficits, which are among the most challenging conditions to diagnose and treat.”
The full setup of the experiment consisted of several tools. There’s a headset, which collected the EEG signals. These signals were processed by an algorithm searching for patterns of cognitive load and states of rest. This classification algorithm, titled SLACC, achieved a 92.5% precision rate with a sensitivity of 86.3%. A waveform generator was also used, remotely controlled by the computer running the algorithm, to produce a high-frequency alternate current fed through a coil. The DNA origami robots were then injected into the living specimen fitted with the coil to begin the experiment.
Even though their experiment was just a demonstration and the first of its kind, it could potentially open up avenues for new biotechnology and medicine.
Featured image: Thomas Wensing via Flickr