small plans: nanotechnology for the building industry

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Nano-switch links biological, mechanical worlds

A switch so small it can move DNA fragments could lead to deeper integration of biological and human-made materials.

The researchers used a type of molecular motor known as a 'Restriction-Modification enzyme'. This molecular motor attaches itself only to specific sequences of DNA.

The DNA strand is held upright by a magnetic field, pulling a magnetic marker at the end of the DNA strand. The molecular motor sits somewhere below the magnetic marker at a specific position, and does not move. When the molecular engine is started, when fed biological fuel ATP, it pulls the DNA strand, stopping when it reaches the magnetic marker.

“Frankly, some researchers didn't think what we were doing was possible,” says Dr Keith Firman, on the completion of the Mol-Switch project that he coordinates. “It could be used as a communicator between the biological and silicon worlds. I could see it providing an interface between muscle and external devices, through its use of ATP, in human implants.”

Six partners, the University of Portsmouth, UK; the National Physical Laboratory, UK; ENS/CNRS, France; TUDelft, the Netherlands; the University of Parma, Italy and the Institute of Microbiology in Prague, the Czech Republic, developed the nano-device over three years.

A switch capable of integrating biological materials like DNA with inorganic ones is an important step in the creation of biomaterials that combine the advantages of traditional, non-living materials like silicon for electronics or carbon for structures with living cells or DNA.

Architectural applications could conceivably include photosynthetic walls or breathable windows.

More info on the Mol-Switch project is available at Nanonet. (photo Cordis information service)

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