When someone taps you on the shoulder, the receptors on the surface of the skin cells transmit this mechanical force applied to them to the cell, and then to different parts of the nervous system, resulting in the sensation of touch.
Despite the development of techniques that monitor the effect of mechanical forces on the different components of the cell, they are still limited in productivity and very expensive and require a lot of time and effort.
To overcome these obstacles, scientists from the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Institute national de la santé et de la recherche médicale) used DNA to design a small robot that can exert mechanical forces inside the cell and the processes can explore what is affected by it. , allowing them to find a cheaper method and be more able to monitor small changes due to mechanical forces inside the cell. The study was published on July 28 in the journal Nature Communications.
Physical forces that generate vital signs
Cells perceive the amount of these mechanical forces using some receptors (known as mechanoreceptors) on the cell surface, which in turn transmit them to the interior of the cell, specifically to motor and structural proteins, which lead to the translation of these physical forces in biochemical signals.
Mechanoreceptors regulate other important biological processes such as blood vessel renewal, pain sensation and breathing, as well as the ear’s detection and discrimination of sound waves.
There are some techniques that scientists have developed to measure the amount of these forces inside the cell, and to study how these forces affect biological processes. Atomic force microscopy and magnetic and optical tweezers are among these techniques.
The developers of the initial version – known as the scanning tunneling microscope – of the atomic force microscope won the Nobel Prize in 1986, and the developers of the optical tweezers won the Nobel Prize in 2018. Despite this, these techniques require a lot of time and effort, and they cannot detect many changes at the same time.
A natural robot of DNA
Therefore, the scientists decided to use a technique known as DNA origami as a building block to design this 3-structure nanorobot. The robot designed thanks to this technology was able to influence proteins and cellular receptors with a certain amount of mechanical force, and then monitor the changes that occur to them.
DNA origami is a modern method that uses the building blocks (base pairs) that make up DNA to design mechanisms that can function as robots with specific tasks and structures. Because these building blocks have a specific shape, scientists can program their assembly to fold and self-assemble into three-dimensional nanostructures that can perform the task for which they were designed. This technology is one of the areas of modern science that only in the last decade has contributed to making major developments in the field of nanotechnology.
The results of the researchers showed that the size of the designed nanometric robot perfectly matches the size of a human cell. This robot was also capable of applying mechanical forces, as well as controlling their amount with precision down to one “piconewton” (ie one trillionth of a newton, knowing that one newton is equivalent to the force with which a finger on the pen) .
According to the press release published by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research in response to the study, this nanorobot will allow scientists to closely study mechanical forces at the microscopic level, which will help to understand the physiological and pathological processes associated with them. , to understand. .
This is the first time that a self-assembled, human-made DNA-based robot has been developed that can apply so little mechanical force to cell proteins with such precision.
Of course, such a robot would help to expand our knowledge of the cellular pathways affected by mechanical forces. For example, defects in cellular mechanical processes are associated with many diseases such as cancer. Cancer cells move to another location after exploring the mechanical properties of their environment. Understanding the mechanistic nature of the cancer environment using this type of robot can therefore be useful to investigate one of the most important mechanisms of cancer disease, namely its transfer from one place to another.
In fact, this tool is very useful. They can be used to understand the molecular cellular mechanisms involved in response to mechanical forces, which will help to discover new cellular receptors that can sense mechanical forces. This robot will also allow the study of cellular pathways – more precisely – at the same time that those pathways are affected by mechanical forces.
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