A team of biochemical researchers at Johns Hopkins University has sparked the possibility of creating “soft” robots by using DNA sequences to cause shape-changing in hydrogels. A DNA sequence named the “hairpin” can induce a sample of hydrogel to swell as much as 100 times its original volume. This reaction can then be stopped with a different sequence named the “terminator hairpin”. According to Rebecca Schulman, a senior author of the study, this research was inspired by how “living cells can use chemical signals to decide how to grow or move and use chemical energy to power themselves”.
This merging of technology and the process of bending and expanding that is typically observed only in nature offers a vast scope of unique applications. The new process could bring smart materials and metamorphic devices into our lives. Furthermore, it could introduce “soft” robots and serve as a crucial step in the development of robot-human interfaces. More details on the research can be found in the September issue of Science.