From a single DNA strand, a tiny motor

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- They are still many years away, but infinitesimal molecular motors that could radically improve manufacturing and medicine just took a step closer to reality.

A University of Florida chemistry professor has made a nanomotor from a single DNA molecule. The motor, so small that hundreds of thousands could fit on the head of a pin, curls up and extends like an inchworm, said Weihong Tan, the principal investigator and lead author of an article about the motor in the April edition of the journal Nano Letters.

While it is not the first such DNA motor, Tan said his nanomotor is the first to be built from a single molecule rather than several different DNA molecules. This makes it easier to use and edges such motors closer to real-life applications in the rapidly emerging field of bionanotechnology, Tan said.

Compared to other DNA motors, our nanomotor is more practical, Tan said.

The first use of DNA motors is already beginning to emerge in the form of biosensors, said Hiroaki Yokota, a nanomotor researcher at Osaka University in Japan. These are instruments that researchers use to detect a very specific piece of DNA that may be related to disease. Such sensors enable us to detect only a few DNA molecules that contain specific sequences and thus possibly diagnose patients as having such specific sequences related to a cancer gene or not, he said.

Down the road, it is anticipated that nanomotors will play an active role in clinical treatment. For example, these ultra-small devices could be injected along with drugs that kill cancer cells or tumors, Tan said. When the drugs reach the disease site, the nanomotors would make the drug molecules attach and stick to the cancer cell membrane, Tan said. Perhaps more importantly, the motors precision would give them the ability to prevent the drugs from attaching to noncancerous molecules or healthy parts of the body eliminating the debilitating effects, for example, of chemotherapy

Contact: Weihong Tan
University of Florida

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