Can We Make a

Eons of biological evolution have given us miniature devices we might copy. At the cellular level systems are collections of catalysts, sensors, skeletons, pumps and motors. Cellular machines create components that self-replicate, produce power, regulate its consumption, store information and maintain the internal environment. Analogous organizations and functions exist at the organ and organ system levels of complexity. At all levels complexity and emergence complicate our understanding. Complexity and emergence are properties that manifest themselves when any one formalism grows incapable of capturing all of a system's properties.

Before building a bee-like device, we must understand what the surfaces and interfaces of small hybrid structures can do. We need to develop capabilities across the range of complementary length scales between structures of tens of nanometers, like proteins,

DNA, and viruses joining our capabilities on the micron scale to our knowledge of how to manipulate cells and cellular assemblies.

We have had some successes. We can isolate whole systems, such as flagellar motors, and modify their biochemistry. Our understanding of microfluidics lets us handle and analyze minute quantities of liquids in the laboratory. Nanoprobes target cells; nanochips process DNA, and nanoscaled biochemistry labs on chips now depend on technologies that are approaching how integrated semiconductor devices transformed electronics and computation. We are learning to work small.

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