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Nature’s nanotechnology motors to inspire future machines

Work at Purdue and The Catholic University of America has clarified how a natural nanotechnology motor works to “pump” DNA into the head of a virus. From Small Times:

The virus consists of a head and tail portion. The DNA-packaging motor is located in the same place where the tail eventually connects to the head. The motor falls off after the packaging step is completed, allowing the tail to attach to the capsid.

DNA is made of four different kinds of “nucleotides” identified by a specific “base.” The bases are paired together to form the rungs of a ladderlike, double-stranded helical structure. Because there is a negative charge associated with each nucleotide, they repel each other when compressed together, creating a pressure inside the confining space of the capsid. A motor is needed to counteract this pressure, in effect pumping the DNA into the head…

The authors proposed that the motor uses a similar inchworm mechanism to package the DNA into the virus…

Because herpes and other viruses contain similar DNA packaging motors, the findings could help scientists to design drugs that would interfere in the function of these motors and hence mitigate the result of some viral infections. The findings also could have other applications, such as development of tiny “nanomotors” in future machines, [Purdue biology prof Michael] Rossmann said.

Nature’s nanotech: a great inspiration for today’s nanotechnologists. —Christine

One Response to “Nature’s nanotechnology motors to inspire future machines”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Yes… These molecular motors are facinating. One of the interesting aspects of these motors are their ability to pack nucleic acids into their capsids to near crystalline density. For example the Bacillus subtilis phage ϕ29 DNA packaging motor can generate forces in excess of 50pN. When packaging is complete the intracapsid pressure can be as much as 60 atmospheres. It has been suggested that this pressure is used to inject their nucleic acid into host cells. This motor is amoungst the stongest known… capable of generating ~ 25 more force than that of myosin.

    Now, what I would love to do is play with these motors on chip… for example for pumping or for sequencing… gotta love nature!

    Eoin

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