Molecular robots with sensors and intelligence

Acc Chem Res. 2014 Jun 17;47(6):1681-90. doi: 10.1021/ar400318d. Epub 2014 Jun 6.


CONSPECTUS: What we can call a molecular robot is a set of molecular devices such as sensors, logic gates, and actuators integrated into a consistent system. The molecular robot is supposed to react autonomously to its environment by receiving molecular signals and making decisions by molecular computation. Building such a system has long been a dream of scientists; however, despite extensive efforts, systems having all three functions (sensing, computation, and actuation) have not been realized yet. This Account introduces an ongoing research project that focuses on the development of molecular robotics funded by MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan). This 5 year project started in July 2012 and is titled "Development of Molecular Robots Equipped with Sensors and Intelligence". The major issues in the field of molecular robotics all correspond to a feedback (i.e., plan-do-see) cycle of a robotic system. More specifically, these issues are (1) developing molecular sensors capable of handling a wide array of signals, (2) developing amplification methods of signals to drive molecular computing devices, (3) accelerating molecular computing, (4) developing actuators that are controllable by molecular computers, and (5) providing bodies of molecular robots encapsulating the above molecular devices, which implement the conformational changes and locomotion of the robots. In this Account, the latest contributions to the project are reported. There are four research teams in the project that specialize on sensing, intelligence, amoeba-like actuation, and slime-like actuation, respectively. The molecular sensor team is focusing on the development of molecular sensors that can handle a variety of signals. This team is also investigating methods to amplify signals from the molecular sensors. The molecular intelligence team is developing molecular computers and is currently focusing on a new photochemical technology for accelerating DNA-based computations. They also introduce novel computational models behind various kinds of molecular computers necessary for designing such computers. The amoeba robot team aims at constructing amoeba-like robots. The team is trying to incorporate motor proteins, including kinesin and microtubules (MTs), for use as actuators implemented in a liposomal compartment as a robot body. They are also developing a methodology to link DNA-based computation and molecular motor control. The slime robot team focuses on the development of slime-like robots. The team is evaluating various gels, including DNA gel and BZ gel, for use as actuators, as well as the body material to disperse various molecular devices in it. They also try to control the gel actuators by DNA signals coming from molecular computers.

MeSH terms

  • Amoeba
  • Biosensing Techniques*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Computers, Molecular*
  • DNA / chemistry
  • Feedback
  • Gels / chemistry
  • Kinesins / chemistry
  • Liposomes
  • Microtubules / chemistry
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Nanostructures / chemistry
  • Nanotechnology / methods*
  • Photochemistry / methods
  • RNA / chemistry
  • Robotics / instrumentation
  • Robotics / methods*


  • Gels
  • Liposomes
  • RNA
  • DNA
  • Kinesins