CHESTNUT HILL, MA -- Boston College biochemists have created a 78-atom molecular paddlewheel--one of the world's tiniest motors--which could pave the way for intercellular machines that repair the body from the inside.
The microscopic motor, described in the September 9 edition of the scientific journal "Nature," is considered a major breakthrough for scientists seeking to understand the workings of the biological motors--from the muscles to the lungs--that power the human body.
It took Boston College Vanderslice Professor of Chemistry T. Ross Kelly and his associates four years to create the tiny three-bladed rotor engine powered by bio-fuel that has been made to turn 120 degrees.
"This is even slower than the Wright Brothers, but it's proof of the principle that you can make a molecule move in one direction," Kelly said, adding that the goal of continuous rotation remains a way off, but is achievable.
The ramifications for biochemical research promise to be significant.
"Biological systems are full of motors," said Kelly, "from little 'trains' that run inside cells and move nutrients back and forth, to hair-like cilia in the lungs that push out dust particles, to the muscles that make our bodies move. But no one understands how these biological motors work. Our research may help biochemists do so, and may lead to treatments for people whose motors don't work right."
"A molecular motor is the forerunner of a molecular tractor," added said. "I bought some of them hoping they would give me ideas."
Kelly's co-authors on the Nature article are two of his former post-doctoral fellows, Harshani DeSilva and Richard A. Silva. The research is supported by a four-year grant of $850,000 from the National Institutes of Health.
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