Magazine article Science News

Strategy Controls Minuscule Motor. (Nanotech Switch)

Magazine article Science News

Strategy Controls Minuscule Motor. (Nanotech Switch)

Article excerpt

Tiny machines need tiny motors. Now, researchers have designed an on-off switch for a motor made from a spinning protein fragment just 11 nanometers wide.

A motor such as this one, based on a natural protein, might someday operate nanoscale machines such as drug-delivery systems, says Carlo Montemagno of the University of California, Los Angeles. He and his colleagues describe their controllable minimotor in the November Nature Materials.

The protein that Montemagno and his colleagues used is an enzyme ATP synthase, which produces the cellular fuel adenosine triphosphate. The researchers worked specifically with a spinning fragment of ATP synthase called [F.sub.1]-ATPase.

Many researchers have been looking at this protein fragment and other spinning proteins with an eye toward using them as motors in future nanoscale machines. Two years ago, Montemagno's team reported that they had attached small nickel and protein propellers to [F.sub.1]-ATPase hubs that rotate about 8 times per second.

Yet to work in a functioning machine, a motor must be able to turn on and off. In the new work, Montemagno and his coworkers added a zinc-binding site to F1-ATPase. When the researchers then added zinc to a solution containing the modified protein fragment, it stopped rotating. They could restart the [F.sub.1]-ATPase spinning by removing the zinc with the help of molecules that bind to the metal even more strongly than the protein fragment does. …

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