Robot made of LEGOs produces DNA machines

Bioengineers at Arizona State University leveraging a LEGO robotics kit created an affordable yet powerful gradient mixer to purify self-assembling nanostructures.
Abdul-Rahman Oladimeji Bello
Representational image of LEGO pieces.jpg
Representational image of LEGO pieces.


A team of ingenious bioengineers at Arizona State University (ASU) has harnessed the power of childhood nostalgia, unveiling a creative solution to a long-standing challenge in DNA origami research.

They've successfully employed a LEGO robotics kit to build an affordable, highly effective gradient mixer for purifying self-assembling DNA origami nanostructures. This innovative breakthrough, detailed in a paper published one PLOS ONE, promises to revolutionize how scientists approach DNA origami synthesis.

The creation of DNA origami structures is an intricate process, requiring precise purification of nanostructures. Traditionally, this purification step involved rate-zone centrifugation, relying on a costly piece of equipment called a gradient mixer. However, the maverick minds at ASU have demonstrated that even the iconic plastic bricks of LEGO can be repurposed for scientific advancement.

Picture this: a LEGO robot, with its colorful bricks intricately assembled into a single-arm contraption atop a simple base. Don't let the playful appearance fool you; this ingenious robot holds the potential to change the DNA origami landscape forever.

Let's delve into the workings of this LEGO marvel. The robot's single arm deftly guides a platform where cylindrical tubes, filled with the DNA origami material, can be securely attached.

But before the spinning magic happens, the tubes are positioned vertically and capped to avoid messy mishaps. Once everything is in place, the robot initiates a graceful, slow spin, coaxing the materials inside the tubes to blend seamlessly into a gradient.

The key to success

The key to success lies in the vertical-to-horizontal transition. As the tubes are lowered into a horizontal position, they undergo rapid spinning, effectively separating the contents into a beautifully layered gradient. It's like witnessing LEGO engineering sorcery before your very eyes.

Remarkably, the results of their tests were as impressive as the creativity behind it. The LEGO robot proved itself on par with its expensive commercial counterparts, efficiently mixing and separating the required materials. What's more, this DIY DNA origami purification kit came at a fraction of the cost.

The team's LEGO concoction encompassed two small yet powerful LEGO motors—one for placement, and the other for the spinning maneuver. These resourceful scientists ingeniously fashioned the tube holder using a 3D printer, further showcasing the convergence of various cutting-edge technologies.

The potential of this discovery extends far beyond just DNA origami. The researchers at ASU highlight that the same creative approach could be employed to develop inexpensive alternatives for various expensive lab machines. The vision of a LEGO-powered laboratory might not be as far-fetched as one would imagine.

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