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Patent of the Month – Self-Replicating Materials

Patent of the Month –  Self-Replicating Materials

| On 12, Apr 2020

Darrell Mann

Here’s one we first started tracking back in 2012. Most ‘self-‘ solutions are interesting. This one seemed to offer up more than most. The ultimate factory! Now, as of December 8, the patent has been granted. US9,206,471 was awarded to a trio of inventors at New York University. Here’s what the background description tells us about the start point for the research work:

Technological advances allow the manipulation of extremely small units of matter, even individual atoms, opening up the possibility of macrofabrication technologies. Such technologies could be used to design nano and micro-scale machines, or to accurately control individual elements in larger materials or machines. Practical realization of these technologies is blocked by the inability to adapt experimental and small scale techniques to the larger scales required of industrial production. Conventional materials production is a linear process. Doubling the amount of material created requires twice the production time. Linear scaling of production is a critical problem if the goal is to create useful, i.e. macroscopic, quantities of microscopic building blocks with sophisticated internal structures.

Exponential growth is the most elegant and effective solution to the problem, as demonstrated by biological systems, in which a single cell generates offspring which themselves can build more copies. A single cell containing the necessary information can also divide and develop into a living organism, demonstrating that large, complex systems can be built and operated from self-reproducing units. While nature teems with organisms that readily reproduce, no one has yet succeeded in making an artificial material that can repeatedly copy itself. Making a material which self-replicates presents not only a significant scientific challenge but also the potential for applications which bridge the microscopic and macroscopic worlds. Self-replication leads to exponential growth providing a practical means to scale up production of components for nanomachines and larger scale more functionally complex assemblies. Demonstrating self-replication and developing the science behind it therefore represents an important step for nanotechnology and for enabling the practical development of the technology.

And here’s how the invention works. (We’ve taken this text from the University’s self-replication web-page as it is a little bit (!) easier to digest… here goes…)

The breakthrough the NYU researchers have achieved is the replication of a system that contains complex information. Thus, the replication of this material, like that of DNA in the cell, is not limited to repeating patterns.

To demonstrate this self-replication process, the NYU scientists created artificial DNA tile motifs —short, nanometer-scale arrangements of DNA. Each tile serves as a letter—A or B—that recognizes and binds to complementary letters A’ or B’. In the natural world, the DNA replication process involves complementary matches between bases—adenine (A) pairs with thymine (T) and guanine (G) pairs with cytosine (C)—to form its familiar double helix. By contrast, the NYU researchers developed an artificial tile or motif, called BTX (bent triple helix molecules containing three DNA double helices), with each BTX molecule comprised of 10 DNA strands. Unlike DNA, the BTX code is not limited to four letters—in principle, it can contain quadrillions of different letters and tiles that pair using the complementarity of four DNA single strands, or “sticky ends,” on each tile, to form a six-helix bundle.

In order to achieve self-replication of the BTX tile arrays, a seed word is needed to catalyze multiple generations of identical arrays. BTX’s seed consists of a sequence of seven tiles—a seven-letter word. To bring about the self-replication process, the seed is placed in a chemical solution, where it assembles complementary tiles to form a “daughter BTX array”—a complementary word. The daughter array is then separated from the seed by heating the solution to ~ 40 oC. The process is then repeated. The daughter array binds with its complementary tiles to form a “granddaughter array,” thus achieving self-replication of the material and of the information in the seed—and hence reproducing the sequence within the original seed word. Significantly, this process is distinct from the replication processes that occur within the cell, because no biological components, particularly enzymes, are used in its execution—even the DNA is synthetic.

“This is the first step in the process of creating artificial self-replicating materials of an arbitrary composition,” said Paul Chaikin, a professor in NYU’s Department of Physics and one of the study’s co-authors. “The next challenge is to create a process in which self-replication occurs not only for a few generations, but long enough to show exponential growth.”

“While our replication method requires multiple chemical and thermal processing cycles, we have demonstrated that it is possible to replicate not just molecules like cellular DNA or RNA, but discrete structures that could in principle assume many different shapes, have many different functional features, and be associated with many different types of chemical species,”

The breakthrough the NYU researchers have achieved is the replication of a system that contains complex information. Thus, the replication of this material, like that of DNA in the cell, is not limited to repeating patterns.

To demonstrate this self-replication process, the NYU scientists created artificial DNA tile motifs —short, nanometer-scale arrangements of DNA. Each tile serves as a letter—A or B—that recognizes and binds to complementary letters A’ or B’. In the natural world, the DNA replication process involves complementary matches between bases—adenine (A) pairs with thymine (T) and guanine (G) pairs with cytosine (C)—to form its familiar double helix. By contrast, the NYU researchers developed an artificial tile or motif, called BTX (bent triple helix molecules containing three DNA double helices), with each BTX molecule comprised of 10 DNA strands. Unlike DNA, the BTX code is not limited to four letters—in principle, it can contain quadrillions of different letters and tiles that pair using the complementarity of four DNA single strands, or “sticky ends,” on each tile, to form a six-helix bundle.

In order to achieve self-replication of the BTX tile arrays, a seed word is needed to catalyze multiple generations of identical arrays. BTX’s seed consists of a sequence of seven tiles—a seven-letter word. To bring about the self-replication process, the seed is placed in a chemical solution, where it assembles complementary tiles to form a “daughter BTX array”—a complementary word. The daughter array is then separated from the seed by heating the solution to ~ 40 oC. The process is then repeated. The daughter array binds with its complementary tiles to form a “granddaughter array,” thus achieving self-replication of the material and of the information in the seed—and hence reproducing the sequence within the original seed word. Significantly, this process is distinct from the replication processes that occur within the cell, because no biological components, particularly enzymes, are used in its execution—even the DNA is synthetic.

“This is the first step in the process of creating artificial self-replicating materials of an arbitrary composition,” said Paul Chaikin, a professor in NYU’s Department of Physics and one of the study’s co-authors. “The next challenge is to create a process in which self-replication occurs not only for a few generations, but long enough to show exponential growth.”

“While our replication method requires multiple chemical and thermal processing cycles, we have demonstrated that it is possible to replicate not just molecules like cellular DNA or RNA, but discrete structures that could in principle assume many different shapes, have many different functional features, and be associated with many different types of chemical species,”

While the ‘self’ (Principle 25) is pretty much given away the moment you read the title of the invention disclosure, the problem being solved is a tad more difficult to imagine. Looking back to the background description, the thing the inventors are trying to achieve is ‘exponential production’ (i.e. beyond ‘linear’), and what makes it difficult to achieve is the inability to adapt experimental and small scale techniques to the larger scales Which we think maps onto the Matrix something like this:

Thinking about it, the solution also carries a lot of evidence for Principles 3, 10 and 7 too. Maybe we’re reaching a point where the Contradiction Matrix is getting so good, we can use it to give us clues as to what to go and look for in the invention disclosure? Oh that that was true!

 

 

 

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