Scientists Manipulate Molecular Nanomachines to Maximize Efficiency and Conserve Energy

Nanotech

A team of scientists successfully demonstrated the first-ever strategy developed to manipulate tiny molecular nanomachines inside the human body to maximize efficiency and conserve energy / Photo by: Alexander Kharchenko via 123RF

 

A team of scientists successfully demonstrated the first-ever strategy developed to manipulate tiny molecular nanomachines inside the human body to maximize efficiency and conserve energy, which could have implications through many fields like developing more efficient computer chips and solar cells for energy production.

There are trillions of these nanomachines inside the human body, performing various tasks crucial to keep humans alive. Nanomachines are so fast and extremely small—only a few billionths of a meter wide—which allows them to perform complex tasks such as moving materials around a cell, building and breaking down molecules, as well as processing and expressing genetic information.

Although they perform a lot of tasks, nanomachines only consume relatively little energy, according to a statement. Physics professor David Sivak of the Simon Fraser University said a theory that predicts the efficiency of energy enables people to understand the function of these microscopic machines and even their malfunctions when they break down.

To test this theory, Sivak and his colleagues manipulated a DNA hairpin whose folding and unfolding copies that of the mechanical movement of more intricate molecular machines. The outcome of their experiment coincided with the physics professor's theory.

The researchers found that pulling rapidly on the hairpin as it was folded led to maximum efficiency and minimal energy loss. The same thing also happened when they slowly pulled on the hairpin as it was on the verge of unfolding.

It was due to the minuscule scale of the DNA hairpins and nanomachines, as well as their floppiness, that they constantly collided with one another because of violent collisions with the molecules that surround them, co-author Steven Large explained.

"Letting the jostling unfold the hairpin for you is an energy and time saver," Large, who is a physics graduate student at SFU, said in the statement.

Moving forward, the researchers are thinking of applying the theory to gain insight on how to maneuver a molecular machine through its operational cycle while also decreasing the needed energy to do that. The possible applications could change the game in a variety of areas, Sivak said.

"Uses could include designing more efficient computer chips and computer memory (reducing power requirements and the heat they emit), making better renewable energy materials for processes like artificial photosynthesis (increasing the energy harvested from the Sun) and improving the autonomy of biomolecular machines for biotech applications like drug delivery," the lead author said.