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Molecular Motors at the Limits of Nanotechnology

Ask yourself, Why do biological systems exhibit molecular machines at the smallest level permissible by the properties of matter? “Evolution” provides less and less a convincing answer.

Molecular motors
9 November 2005

http://www.iop.org/EJ/news/-topic=1009

A new special issue of Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter edited by Joseph Klafter and Michael Urbakh contains invited papers from some of the world’s greatest experts on molecular motors.

Macro-scale thermodynamic engines convert the random motion of fuel-produced heat into directed motion. Such engines cannot be downsized to the nanometre scale, because thermodynamics does not apply to single atoms or molecules, only large assemblies of them. A great challenge for the field of nanotechnology is the design and construction of microscopic motors that can transform input energy into directed motion and perform useful functions such as transporting of cargo. Today’s nanotechnologists can only look in envy at the biological world, where molecular motors of various kinds (linear, rotary) are very common and fulfil essential roles.

Inspired by the fascinating mechanism by which proteins move in the presence of thermal noise, many physicists have been trying to establish novel concepts and strategies that might lead to the construction of man-made motors and machines on mesoscopic to molecular scales. Operating far from thermal equilibrium, molecular motors successfully combine noise and space-time asymmetry to generate useful functions such as transport, pumping, separation or segregation of particles. Such man-made molecular machinery, when realized, will not only be able to perform useful tasks on the atomic and molecular scales, but will also provide fundamentally new ways to manipulate molecules and nanoscale objects. Various mechanisms suitable for converting supplied energy into directed motion are discussed in this special issue. An important problem that has been raised in this issue, and has still to be resolved, concerns the possibility of controlling induced motion. In particular, a major problem is that of resolving the contradiction between the fascinating idea of feeding the energy by a driving random motion, and yet being able to control that motion; for example: starting the motion, stopping it, changing the velocity, and so on.

This special issue aims to provide an overview of current theoretical and experimental works on molecular motors and possible applications. In selecting the papers the editors have tried to maintain a balance between new results and review-like aspects, such that the issue is self-contained and readily accessible to non-specialists in the field. The particular appeal of this collection of papers also lies in the fusion of both experiment and theory, thus providing the connection to reality of the sometimes demanding, mathematically inclined contributions. Each author has made an effort not only to present recent results in a clear and lucid way, but also to provide an introductory review that helps the reader to understand the different topics.

To read the papers in this special issue visit Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter volume 17 issue 47. Subscription information can be found on the journal homepage.

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6 Responses to Molecular Motors at the Limits of Nanotechnology

  1. “because thermodynamics does not apply to single atoms or molecules, only large assemblies of them…Inspired by the fascinating mechanism by which proteins move in the presence of thermal noise, many physicists have been trying to establish novel concepts and strategies that might lead to the construction of man-made motors and machines on mesoscopic to molecular scales. Operating far from thermal equilibrium, molecular motors successfully combine noise and space-time asymmetry to generate useful functions such as transport, pumping, separation or segregation of particles.”

    I seem to recall someone writing about CSI and Maxwell’s deamon. :-)

    Salvador

  2. ““Evolution” provides less and less a convincing answer.”

    Evolution provides *no* commonsensical answer. The highly complex organization of molecular machines via lots of time and nature acting on variation by *chance* is not commonsensical.

  3. No theory could provide a “commonsensical answer” for how “highly complex organization of molecular machines via lots of time and nature acting on variation by *chance*.” That is not however a defficiency. The scales of time involved take the question well outside the realm of common sense. Any natural explanation for the spread of life on Earth will not be commonsensical.

  4. “Any natural explanation for the spread of life on Earth will not be commonsensical.”

    Well put. But as our knowledge of science improves, so too does our list of naturally explainable phenomena increase. And even that which is naturally explained is often subjective.

  5. A few years back, IIRC, Ken Miller made a comment to the effect that before dismissing evolutionary explanations for, say, the bacterial flagellum, we (that is the IDPs) ought to at least give them (the Darwinists) a chance to figure out how it works.(I don’t have the exact quote, if someone does, please post it as I wouldn’t want to be accused of “quote-mining” or anything pernicious like that!) Well, studies like the one referenced here by Bill and the recent article here: http://www.nanonet.go.jp/engli...../011a.html, sure seem to go a long way toward fulfilling that request. But with all this increase in knowledge of how these tiny bio-machines work, have we come any closer to understanding how they evolved, or has the problem become much more difficult? I can’t help but wonder what Miller would say now in the face of these and other studies. It almost seems that the amount of knowledge we have as to how these little machines work is inverse to the amount of knowledge we have about how they evolved.

  6. “…many physicists have been trying to establish novel concepts and strategies that might lead to the construction of man-made motors and machines on mesoscopic to molecular scales.”

    The most brilliant minds in physics are trying to duplicate the little machines found in nature.
    I have two takes on this:
    1) I suggest exploration of “the physical design of biological machines, how and why they work” is one of many perfect agendas for Intelligent Design research. Such research might show not only the elegance with which molecular machines are designed, but also produce workable specificications for similar man-made machines.
    2) It obviously takes intelligence to even *attempt* to duplicate these machinces. How can anyone assert with absolute confidence that no intelligence whatsoever was involved in their original development?

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