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Biological motors sort molecules one by one on a chip

Researchers from Delft University of Technology's Kavli Institute of Nanoscience have discovered how to use the motors of biological cells in extremely small channels on a chip. Based on this, they built a transport system that uses electrical charges to direct the molecules individually. To demonstrate this, the Delft researchers sorted the individual molecules according to their color. Professor Hess of the University of Florida has called the Delft discovery "the first traffic control system in biomolecular motor nanotechnology". The research findings will be published in Science on May 12.

The biological cell is a complex of many different small protein factories. The necessary transportation of materials within the cell occurs across a network of microtubules: long, tubular-shaped proteins that extend in a star-shaped formation from the nucleus of the cell to the walls of the cell. Molecular bio-motors, such as the enzyme kinesin, can walk in small steps (of 8 nanometers) with a load of material along these microtubule-networks and thus provide transport within the cell.

Fascinated by these biological motors, the researchers at Delft University of Technology's Kavli Institute of Nanoscience are currently exploring the possibility of inserting these kinesin-motors and microtubules in an electrically directed transport system that is made by the researchers using nano-fabrication techniques.

The researchers turned the system around: the kinesin-motors are fastened in large quantities on a surface with their 'feet' up; the microtubules (measuring approximately 1 to 15 micrometers in length) were then transported over the 'carpet' of motors. The microtubules are, as it were, 'crowd surfing' over the sea of small kinesin motors. A particular challenge of the research was to ensure beforehand that the microtubule tubes could be transported in a determined direction and were not dislodged by collisions of the motor carpet.

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Source:Delft University of Technology


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