Autofac - Real-Life Nanoscale Assembly Line

The first nanobot assembly line has been created by researchers, according to A proximity-based programmable DNA nanoscale assembly line, a paper published in Nature. The "nanobots" are molecular machines made from strands of DNA; they can "carry" different sizes of gold particles to create up to eight different products.

Our ability to synthesize nanometre-scale chemical species, such as nanoparticles with desired shapes and compositions, offers the exciting prospect of generating new functional materials and devices by combining them in a controlled fashion into larger structures. Self-assembly can achieve this task efficiently, but may be subject to thermodynamic and kinetic limitations: reactants, intermediates and products may collide with each other throughout the assembly time course to produce non-target species instead of target species. An alternative approach to nanoscale assembly uses information-containing molecules such as DNA1 to control interactions and thereby minimize unwanted cross-talk between different components.




(First nanobot assembly line via Nature)

Fans of Philip K. Dick are, of course, thinking about his 1955 story Autofac, a very early story about nano-sized factories:

The pellet was a smashed container of machinery, tiny metallic elements too minute to be analyzed without a microscope...

The cylinder had split. At first he couldn't tell if it had been the impact or deliberate internal mechanisms at work. From the rent, an ooze of metal bits was sliding. Squatting down, O'Neill examined them.

The bits were in motion. Microscopic machinery, smaller than ants, smaller than pins, working energetically, purposefully - constructing something that looked like a tiny rectangle of steel.

"They're building," O'Neill said, awed. He got up and prowled on. Off to the side, at the far edge of the gully, he came across a downed pellet far advanced on its construction. Apparently it had been released some time ago.
(Read more about PKD's autofac)

From Nature via Frolix_8

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