Nanobots and nanodevices are fully formed in concept, but some of the pieces are harder than others to actualize.
“One of the major limitations in making implantable, nanomedical devices is providing power to them,” said Travis, … of Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine. [In Tethered To Chip, Energy Supply That Drives Sperm Could Power ‘Nanobot’ from SD]
Recent work at Cornell has found a candidate motor: sperm! A glycolytic enzyme pathway attached to the solid tail structure converts sugar to ATP. Researchers connected the enzymes to a substrate, and found that they still worked. Since sugar is plentiful, this could be the perfect way to provide ATP to a nanobot. Biological nanotech has a huge advantage because most of the parts already exist!
I’m really interested to see what comes of this reasearch. There are a few interesting medical applications such as targeting drugs to tumors, where the nanodevice needs to “swim” to the appropriate site. Medicine is the most commonly discussed application, but I can think of a few more… nanobots covering plant roots that dispatch harmful nematodes and other parasites, environmental clean-up nanobots that deactivate toxins…
I read “Engines of Creation” by Eric K. Drexler as a child, and have been fascinated with the idea of molecular engineering ever since. It’s not as exciting as genetic engineering, but has huge potential. I especially enjoy it when the two intersect, such as enzymes produced with genetic engineering that are effectively used as tiny machines.
When I use restriction endonucleases to cut specific DNA sequences, I’m employing nanobots to do something that would be impossible without them. Rennet is a food enzyme that immediately comes to mind. It has been used by humans to coagulate milk proteins since animal agriculture began. Can we call enzymes such as these anything but machines? They are certainly devices that assist in useful work. Public perception of science would certainly change if we taught children about enzymes as machines.