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“We are trying to show that DNA is a future engineering material,” says Dr. Rebecca Taylor, assistant professor of mechanical engineering with courtesy appointments in biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. She spends many of her days in the lab engineering electromechanical sensors and devices for employment in the human body, but she’s doing so in a revolutionary new way: with the use of DNA. As opposed to top-down manufacturing, which involves controlling every detail at every step in the manufacturing process, DNA origami are small electromechanical systems that, once programmed, build themselves, thereby granting the power of bottom-up bioengineering.

The technical details of how exactly DNA origami works are a bit complex, but Dr. Taylor lays them out in simple terms with illustrative examples, making for a compelling and informative episode. She discusses two of the main projects being worked on in her lab, one of which is the creation of robots capable of swimming through the tiniest capillaries in the human body—capillaries that are just eight microns in diameter. In the near future, Dr. Taylor sees a reality in which DNA origami behave like the molecular chaperones in our body, facilitating and directing their own more complex assemblies in the body.

Press play to hear the full conversation, and learn more about this field of research by visiting https://engineering.cmu.edu/directory/bios/taylor-rebecca.html.

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