On September 21st 2018, couple hundred people came together in Boston to attend the 9th Annual Wyss International Symposium. The topic of this year was Molecular Robotics. I have to confess that this is not my field of expertise beyond a synthetic biology course, however, coming from a computer science background, most topics were somewhat familiar.
The event booklet describes molecular robotics as: “encompassing the design of microscopic, self-assembly driven agents that sense, compute and actuate”.
Furthermore they state that “Nanoscale robots composed of nucleid acids, proteins or other molecules do not require power or batteries to operate, can be programmed to complete their tasks autonomously and collectively, and offer an unprecedented level of interaction with and control of biological systems”.
Potential application areas are clinical diagnostics and therapeutics. Molecular robotics also extends “robotics” into the “realm of nanoscale molecular systems with large numbers of individual agents collectively accomplishing tasks at microscopic scales”.
Talks were divided into sessions covering the state of the art in sensing, computing and actuating aspects of the field. The final session titled “Translate” aimed to discuss how all this can be translated into applications in real life.
The Wyss Institute just released a recap of the event, which is a must read. Unfortunately, the video recordings of the event are not made public. I scanned the web for other presentations from some of the speakers (disclaimer: these videos are not exactly what was presented at this event)
William Shih, Harvard Medical School
Yamuna Krishnan, University of Chicago
Hendrik Dietz, Technical University Munich
Lulu Qian, Caltech
George Church, Harvard University
Itai Cohen, Cornell
David Baker, University of Washington
Khalid Salaita, Emory University
A Bit of the History Digging a bit deeper into the history of molecular robotics on the internet, it appears that the field started as DNA Nanotechnology (or DNA Nanoengineering). Wikipedia names Dr. Nadrian Seeman of NYU (Dept. of Chemistry) as the founding father of DNA Nanotechnology who laid out the main concepts back in the 80s while it really took off in mid-2000s.
I realized this connection based on Japanese scientist Dr. Satoshi Murata’s 2009 grant proposal titled “Development of Molecular Robotics based on DNA Nanoengineering“.
Furthermore, in this video interview (below), released by the NSF covering the 2010 Nature paper “Molecular robots guided by prescriptive landscapes” by Columbia University researchers, Dr. Milan N. Stojanovic is talking about brief history that led to their paper. And in there he mentions the work of Dr. Seeman of NYU. At that time NSF called molecular robotics as “on the rise”:
Molecular robotics is certainly a field to watch! Maybe this will lead to interesting applications as in the novel Nexus :-) or maybe “artificial or synthetic immune systems”? Or this could be the future of drug design.