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Artist's illustration of a DNA robot carrying different-colored cargo to different locations. (Credit: Ella Maru Studio / www.scientificillustrations.com)

Researchers at Caltech have created microscopic robots out of DNA that can transport and sort cargo, according to research published Thursday in Science. This is a big improvement on previous DNA robots, which were limited to moving in one direction or carrying one type of nanoparticle. The new robots can pick up two different colored dye molecules and deliver them to two different locations.

Why it matters: Researchers hope that one day DNA robots will be able to target cancer cells or deliver drugs to specific parts of the body. According to study author Lulu Qian, "It is one of the first steps toward developing the building blocks for general‐purpose DNA robots." She adds that it shows how seemingly complex tasks can be programmed with simple instructions.

How it works: The robots are made from a single strand of DNA built from four chemicals: A, C, T and G, for shorthand. These chemical bases recognize and bond to one another (A binds to T, and C to G) but are also very easy to unstick from their corresponding parts. Researchers code the robot's DNA body to recognize parts of a DNA field as it walks across it. The robots have four parts: a 'leg' with 'feet' so it can move and an 'arm' with 'hands' that picks up the cargo. They walk around randomly, and when they pick up cargo they carry it around until they find the spot where they're coded to stop.

What they did: The researchers scattered 6 colored particles — some pink, some yellow — across a field of DNA. A single robot walked back and forth, delivering the molecules to the appropriate locations. When the researchers added more DNA robots, the time it took to complete the task decreased, indicating the robots can work alongside each other without interfering.

Go deeper

Progressives pressure Schumer to end filibuster

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images

A progressive coalition is pressuring Chuck Schumer on his home turf by running a digital billboard in Times Square urging the new majority leader to end the Senate filibuster.

Why it matters: Schumer is up for re-election in 2o22 and could face a challenger, and he's also spearheading his party's broader effort to hold onto its narrow congressional majorities.

4 hours ago - Health

U.S. surpasses 25 million COVID cases

A mass COVID-19 vaccination site at Dodger Stadium on Jan. 22 in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The U.S has confirmed more than 25 million coronavirus cases, per Johns Hopkins data updated on Sunday.

The big picture: President Biden has said he expects the country's death toll to exceed 500,000 people by next month, as the rate of deaths due to the virus continues to escalate.

GOP implosion: Trump threats, payback

Spotted last week on a work van in Evansville, Ind. Photo: Sam Owens/The Evansville Courier & Press via Reuters

The GOP is getting torn apart by a spreading revolt against party leaders for failing to stand up for former President Trump and punish his critics.

Why it matters: Republican leaders suffered a nightmarish two months in Washington. Outside the nation’s capital, it's even worse.