A month ago we reported that Andrew Turberfield’s team at the University of Oxford in the UK had built a molecular robot that could be programmed to move in any direction along a branched track. Now they have teamed up with Hiroshi Sugiyama’s team in Kyoto and Tokyo, Japan to use atomic force microscopy to directly observe the stepwise movement of the molecular robot along a long (100 nm) DNA track. From the abstract of the paper they just published in Nature Nanotechnology:
… Here, we assemble a 100-nm-long DNA track on a two-dimensional scaffold…, and show that a DNA motor loaded at one end of the track moves autonomously and at a constant average speed along the full length of the track, a journey comprising 16 consecutive steps for the motor. Real-time atomic force microscopy allows direct observation of individual steps of a single motor, revealing mechanistic details of its operation. This precisely controlled, long-range transport could lead to the development of systems that could be programmed and routed by instructions encoded in the nucleotide sequences of the track and motor. Such systems might be used to create molecular assembly lines modelled on the ribosome.
Access to the full paper unfortunately requires a subscription or the payment of a fee, but the journal has made available free of charge a glance at the figures from the paper and substantial supplementary information that includes a great deal of experimental detail and two very striking movies of the robot moving along the DNA scaffold.
We certainly wish these researchers success in their efforts to “to create molecular assembly lines modelled on the ribosome.” Although the best path to move from current capabilities to advanced nanotechnology has not yet been identified, it is difficult not to be very impressed by the sustained incremental progress that has been made by numerous research groups advancing the field of structural DNA nanotechnology since this area was last reviewed for the Productive Nanosystems Technology Roadmap, unveiled by Foresight Institute and Battelle a bit more than three years ago.