Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

April 23, 2022

Molecular engines made of protein could power molecular machines

Filed under: Emerging Tech,My Thoughts — Suramya @ 11:48 PM

Nano-machines have long been staples of Sci-Fi stories where nanotech is used to cure illnesses , make new materials, kill people etc etc and in the recent years a lot of effort has been put in to make these machines real. Basically speaking, a nanomachine, also called a nanite, is a mechanical or electromechanical device whose dimensions are measured in nanometers (millionths of a millimeter, or units of 10 -9 meter). [What is Nanite] They are still in the R&D phase but a lot of progress is being made in the field.

Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle have created the first building blocks of a molecular engine, namely the axles and rotors. The really cool part is that these are self assembling and use custom designed new proteins unlike any found in nature. The researchers used the advances in Deep learning software to predict what shape a given DNA sequence will fold into making it easier to find a code that makes the desired shape. This allows them to create custom shapes without having to modify existing molecules which can be quite hard.

The team made the machine parts by putting DNA coding for the custom proteins into E. coli bacteria, and then checked their structure using a method called cryogenic electron microscopy.

This showed that the axles assembled correctly inside the rotors, and also revealed the different configurations that would be expected if the axles were turning. But because cryogenic electron microscopy can only provide a series of stills rather than a moving picture, the team can’t say for sure if the axles are rotating.

If they are, it would only be a random back-and-forth movement driven by molecules knocking into each other, a phenomenon called Brownian motion. The team is now designing more components to drive the motion in one direction and create a rotary engine, says Baker.

The work is still in the preliminary stage and the team is designing more components to drive the motion in one direction and create a rotary engine to make sure that the movement seen in the current trials is not just due to Brownian motion. Once the technology is perfected it has a lot of use cases in fields such as BioMed to remove tumors, clean out arterial blocks, repair injuries and fields like material design where these machines can be used to create new materials which are stronger and lighter.

Source: Tiny axles and rotors made of protein could drive molecular machines
Paper: Computational design of mechanically coupled axle-rotor protein assemblies

– Suramya

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