DNA origami nanobots can be controlled via brain-machine interface while inside a living host

08/26/2016 - 06:02

Helen Thomson

A man has used thought alone to control nanorobots inside a living creature for the first time. The technology released a drug inside cockroaches in response to the man’s brain activity – a technique that may be useful for treating brain disorders such as schizophrenia and ADHD.

Getting drugs to where they need to be exactly when you want them is a challenge.


Ref: Thought-Controlled Nanoscale Robots in a Living Host. PLOS One (15 August 2016) | DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0161227 | PDF (Open Access)


We report a new type of brain-machine interface enabling a human operator to control nanometer-size robots inside a living animal by brain activity. Recorded EEG patterns are recognized online by an algorithm, which in turn controls the state of an electromagnetic field. The field induces the local heating of billions of mechanically-actuating DNA origami robots tethered to metal nanoparticles, leading to their reversible activation and subsequent exposure of a bioactive payload. As a proof of principle we demonstrate activation of DNA robots to cause a cellular effect inside the insect Blaberus discoidalis, by a cognitively straining task. This technology enables the online switching of a bioactive molecule on and off in response to a subject’s cognitive state, with potential implications to therapeutic control in disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, and attention deficits, which are among the most challenging conditions to diagnose and treat.