from the round-em-up dept.
A discovery by Princeton University scientists, reported Aug. 2 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, demonstrates that humans don't have the monopoly on building the world's tiniest machines. The Princeton researchers found a lasso-shaped bacterial molecule capable of altering its configuration when exposed to heat, a shape-changing ability akin to that used to operate certain synthetic molecular machines. The lasso is a type of molecular chain known as a peptide.
"The discovery of this lasso peptide, which we named benenodin-1, demonstrates that we might look to biology as well as engineering for source material in developing molecular devices," said A. James Link, an associate professor of chemical and biological engineering at Princeton who was the senior author on the paper.
While the applications are still mostly speculative, the potential uses for molecular machines are enormous, spanning everything from microrobots that deliver drugs in the human body to new types of materials that adapt in real time to environmental changes such as fluctuations in heat, light or moisture.
A naturally occurring switching mechanism has tantalizing possibilities for organic technology.
Chuhan Zong et al. Lasso Peptide Benenodin-1 Is a Thermally Actuated Rotaxane Switch, Journal of the American Chemical Society (2017). DOI: 10.1021/jacs.7b04830