Hey, what if you could have a factory that makes robots that is run by… robots? This is hardly an original thought, but we are a long way from having an assembly line of C3POs self-replicating. On the other hand, animals — including humans — self-replicate all the time using DNA. Now, scientists are making tiny nanorobots from DNA that can assemble more DNA, including copies of themselves.
Assembling 3D structures with DNA has deep implications. For example, it might be possible to build drugs in situ, delivering powerful toxins only to cancer cells. Another example would be putting DNA factories in diabetes patients to manufacture the insulin they can’t.
It remains to be seen how useful these tiny replicators might be for things like computing tasks or sensors. Of course, some fear that we will hit the grey goo scenario where a self-replicating nanobot will simply eat the entire planet and everything on it, including us.
In response, researchers say this is unlikely because the tiny machines need specific raw materials, careful heating and cooling, and exposure to UV light. At least, that’s what they think. The paper isn’t available freely, but you may be able to access it via your local school or even a public library. The supplemental materials are interesting, too.