Doctors would really like to fight diseases such a cancer in precise, directed ways. That means delivering cancer-killing therapies to ugly cells, while leaving healthy cells alone. One way that could happen in the future is by using super tiny robots -- nanobots -- that work together inside the body like an infantry of warriors armed to battle cancer.
But there are some big challenges. Among them, communication. Like any battlefield army, soldiers need to coordinate their attacks. And nanobots, in theory, would have a difficult time. They can't use nano-sized cell phones, for example, because radio signals don't travel through liquids. (What about sonar? Has anyone looked into nano-sonar?) And chemical forms of communications only seem to work over long distances.
So, a team from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain, are looking at a way to use bacteria as messengers that deliver instructions to nanobots wrapped in DNA. Researchers Maria Gregori and Ignacio Llatser encoded the cytoplasm of non-pathogenic strain of E. coli with a short DNA sequence. Think of it as a tweet.
Here's how it might work: A scout-like nanobot in the body encounters a cancerous tumor. It wants to call over the troops for an attack, so it releases bacteria encoded with packets of information in the form of DNA. The bacteria swim towards soldier nanobots, where they attach to the nanobots and then download their DNA message. Orders in hand, the nanobots arm their attack.
It's way cool, but keep in mind this is all theory and simulation. In the simulation, bacteria equipped with flagella -- whip-like tails that propel them forward -- took about 6 minutes to travel 1 millimeter. And the amount of data they carried in DNA is equal to about 600 kilobits of information. That's 3G, which provides typical download speeds of 600 kilobits to 1.4 Megabits per seconds.