A robot made of Lego can quickly take an important step towards creating machines made of DNA.
“This started as a capstone project in an undergraduate lab course,” he says. rizal hariadi at Arizona State University, who tasked his class with building tools using “frugal science.”
The robot that a group of students built has proven particularly useful, resembling a single arm topped with a support for cylindrical tubes. Perform a procedure to mix the liquid contents of the tubes by first tilting the tubes from vertical to horizontal and then rapidly rotating them. This creates a single liquid with a density that decreases evenly from bottom to top.
The robot’s parts, including gears, connecting blocks and two motors, all come from Lego kits. The one exception is the tube holder that the researchers had to 3D print. The robot design is a smaller and faster version of the more traditional “gradient blenders”.
After being mixed by the Lego robot, the liquid can be used to purify tiny structures made of DNA molecules that researchers like Hariadi want to use as tiny machines. These machines could carry out tasks inside cells and shed new light on how natural molecular machines, such as proteins, work.
Many conventional methods for creating density gradients require expensive and difficult-to-use machines. The Lego robot created the necessary density gradient in just 1 minute, which accelerates purification in general.
katherine dunn at the University of Edinburgh in the UK says the robot could make the purification process cheaper and faster.
The purification procedure includes devices other than the Lego robot, so the robot itself may not be useful to other labs that don’t already have this remaining equipment, Hariadi says. However, since it cost about $350 to make with Lego—about $100 cheaper than store-bought devices—this is a convenient and accessible way to prototype devices that can enhance existing lab routines. he says.