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Concept: Molecular motor


We have observed by NMR spectroscopy that the diffusive movement of a ruthenium-based Grubbs' catalyst increases during ring-closing metathesis as a function of the substrate concentration. This is one of the smallest single molecule motors to exhibit catalytically driven motion.

Concepts: DNA, Enzyme, Chemistry, Olefin metathesis, Molecular motor, Motor, Grubbs' catalyst, Robert H. Grubbs


DNA helicases are molecular motors that harness the energy of nucleoside triphosphate hydrolysis to unwinding structured DNA molecules that must be resolved during cellular replication, DNA repair, recombination, and transcription. In vivo, DNA helicases are expected to encounter a wide spectrum of covalent DNA modifications to the sugar phosphate backbone or the nitrogenous bases; these modifications can be induced by endogenous biochemical processes or exposure to environmental agents. The frequency of lesion abundance can vary depending on the lesion type. Certain adducts such as oxidative base modifications can be quite numerous, and their effects can be helix-distorting or subtle perturbations to DNA structure. Helicase encounters with specific DNA lesions and more novel forms of DNA damage will be discussed. We will also review the battery of assays that have been used to characterize helicase-catalyzed unwinding of damaged DNA substrates. Characterization of the effects of specific DNA adducts on unwinding by various DNA repair and replication helicases has proven to be insightful for understanding mechanistic and biological aspects of helicase function in cellular DNA metabolism.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Metabolism, Adenosine triphosphate, DNA repair, DNA replication, Molecular motor, Helicase


The eukaryotic CMG (Cdc45, Mcm2-7, GINS) helicase consists of the Mcm2-7 hexameric ring along with five accessory factors. The Mcm2-7 heterohexamer, like other hexameric helicases, is shaped like a ring with two tiers, an N-tier ring composed of the N-terminal domains, and a C-tier of C-terminal domains; the C-tier contains the motor. In principle, either tier could translocate ahead of the other during movement on DNA. We have used cryo-EM single-particle 3D reconstruction to solve the structure of CMG in complex with a DNA fork. The duplex stem penetrates into the central channel of the N-tier and the unwound leading single-strand DNA traverses the channel through the N-tier into the C-tier motor, 5'-3' through CMG. Therefore, the N-tier ring is pushed ahead by the C-tier ring during CMG translocation, opposite the currently accepted polarity. The polarity of the N-tier ahead of the C-tier places the leading Pol ε below CMG and Pol α-primase at the top of CMG at the replication fork. Surprisingly, the new N-tier to C-tier polarity of translocation reveals an unforeseen quality-control mechanism at the origin. Thus, upon assembly of head-to-head CMGs that encircle double-stranded DNA at the origin, the two CMGs must pass one another to leave the origin and both must remodel onto opposite strands of single-stranded DNA to do so. We propose that head-to-head motors may generate energy that underlies initial melting at the origin.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Transcription, Base pair, DNA replication, Molecular motor


Molecular machines are among the most complex of all functional molecules and lie at the heart of nearly every biological process. A number of synthetic small-molecule machines have been developed, including molecular muscles, synthesizers, pumps, walkers, transporters and light-driven and electrically driven rotary motors. However, although biological molecular motors are powered by chemical gradients or the hydrolysis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), so far there are no synthetic small-molecule motors that can operate autonomously using chemical energy (that is, the components move with net directionality as long as a chemical fuel is present). Here we describe a system in which a small molecular ring (macrocycle) is continuously transported directionally around a cyclic molecular track when powered by irreversible reactions of a chemical fuel, 9-fluorenylmethoxycarbonyl chloride. Key to the design is that the rate of reaction of this fuel with reactive sites on the cyclic track is faster when the macrocycle is far from the reactive site than when it is near to it. We find that a bulky pyridine-based catalyst promotes carbonate-forming reactions that ratchet the displacement of the macrocycle away from the reactive sites on the track. Under reaction conditions where both attachment and cleavage of the 9-fluorenylmethoxycarbonyl groups occur through different processes, and the cleavage reaction occurs at a rate independent of macrocycle location, net directional rotation of the molecular motor continues for as long as unreacted fuel remains. We anticipate that autonomous chemically fuelled molecular motors will find application as engines in molecular nanotechnology.

Concepts: DNA, Adenosine triphosphate, Chemical reaction, Molecule, Chemistry, Chemical substance, Molecular motor, Motor


Photodriven molecular motors are able to convert light energy into directional motion and hold great promise as miniaturized powering units for future nanomachines. In the current state of the art, considerable efforts have still to be made to increase the efficiency of energy transduction and devise systems that allow operation in ambient and non-damaging conditions with high rates of directional motions. The need for ultraviolet light to induce the motion of virtually all available light-driven motors especially hampers the broad applicability of these systems. We describe here a hemithioindigo-based molecular motor, which is powered exclusively by nondestructive visible light (up to 500 nm) and rotates completely directionally with kHz frequency at 20 °C. This is the fastest directional motion of a synthetic system driven by visible light to date permitting materials and biocompatible irradiation conditions to establish similarly high speeds as natural molecular motors.

Concepts: DNA, Light, Electromagnetic radiation, Sun, Electromagnetic spectrum, Frequency, Molecular motor, Motor


Biological transport is supported by collective dynamics of enzymatic molecules that are called motor proteins or molecular motors. Experiments suggest that motor proteins interact locally via short-range potentials. We investigate the fundamental role of these interactions by analyzing a new class of totally asymmetric exclusion processes where interactions are accounted for in a thermodynamically consistent fashion. It allows us to connect explicitly microscopic features of motor proteins with their collective dynamic properties. Theoretical analysis that combines various mean-field calculations and computer simulations suggests that dynamic properties of molecular motors strongly depend on interactions, and correlations are stronger for interacting motor proteins. Surprisingly, it is found that there is an optimal strength of interactions (weak repulsion) that leads to a maximal particle flux. It is also argued that molecular motors transport is more sensitive to attractive interactions. Applications of these results for kinesin motor proteins are discussed.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Molecular biology, Atom, Actin, Molecular motor, Motor protein, Motor


Multimeric, ring-shaped molecular motors rely on the coordinated action of their subunits to perform crucial biological functions. During these tasks, motors often change their operation in response to regulatory signals. Here, we investigate a viral packaging machine as it fills the capsid with DNA and encounters increasing internal pressure. We find that the motor rotates the DNA during packaging and that the rotation per base pair increases with filling. This change accompanies a reduction in the motor’s step size. We propose that these adjustments preserve motor coordination by allowing one subunit to make periodic, specific, and regulatory contacts with the DNA. At high filling, we also observe the downregulation of the ATP-binding rate and the emergence of long-lived pauses, suggesting a throttling-down mechanism employed by the motor near the completion of packaging. This study illustrates how a biological motor adjusts its operation in response to changing conditions, while remaining highly coordinated.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Motor control, Motor coordination, Molecular motor, Protein subunit, Motor


Single-molecule picometer resolution nanopore tweezers (SPRNT) is a new tool for analyzing the motion of nucleic acids through molecular motors. With SPRNT, individual enzymatic motions along DNA as small as 40 pm can be resolved on sub-millisecond time scales. Additionally, SPRNT reveals an enzyme’s exact location with respect to a DNA strand’s nucleotide sequence, enabling identification of sequence-specific behaviors. SPRNT is enabled by a mutant version of the biological nanopore formed by Mycobacterium smegmatis porin A (MspA). SPRNT is strongly rooted in nanopore sequencing and therefore requires a solid understanding of basic principles of nanopore sequencing. Furthermore, SPRNT shares tools developed for nanopore sequencing and extends them to analysis of single-molecule kinetics. As such, this review begins with a brief history of our work developing the nanopore MspA for nanopore sequencing. We then describe the underlying principles of SPRNT, how it works in detail, and propose some potential future uses. We present the methods that will enable others to use SPRNT and we close with a comparison of SPRNT to other techniques.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Molecular biology, Adenosine triphosphate, RNA, Nucleic acid, Nucleotide, Molecular motor


BACKGROUND: Introduction of effective point-of-care devices for use in medical diagnostics is part of strategies to combat accelerating health-care costs. Molecular motor driven nanodevices have unique potentials in this regard due to unprecedented level of miniaturization and independence of external pumps. However motor function has been found to be inhibited by body fluids. RESULTS: We report here that a unique procedure, combining separation steps that rely on antibody-antigen interactions, magnetic forces applied to magnetic nanoparticles (MPs) and the specificity of the actomyosin bond, can circumvent the deleterious effects of body fluids (e.g. blood serum). The procedure encompasses the following steps: (i) capture of analyte molecules from serum by MP-antibody conjugates, (ii) pelleting of MP-antibody-analyte complexes, using a magnetic field, followed by exchange of serum for optimized biological buffer, (iii) mixing of MP-antibody-analyte complexes with actin filaments conjugated with same polyclonal antibodies as the magnetic nanoparticles. This causes complex formation: MP-antibody-analyte-antibody-actin, and magnetic separation is used to enrich the complexes. Finally (iv) the complexes are introduced into a nanodevice for specific binding via actin filaments to surface adsorbed molecular motors (heavy meromyosin). The number of actin filaments bound to the motors in the latter step was significantly increased above the control value if protein analyte (50–60 nM) was present in serum (in step i) suggesting appreciable formation and enrichment of the MP-antibody-analyte-antibody-actin complexes. Furthermore, addition of ATP demonstrated maintained heavy meromyosin driven propulsion of actin filaments showing that the serum induced inhibition was alleviated. Detailed analysis of the procedure i-iv, using fluorescence microscopy and spectroscopy identified main targets for future optimization. CONCLUSION: The results demonstrate a promising approach for capturing analytes from serum for subsequent motor driven separation/detection. Indeed, the observed increase in actin filament number, in itself, signals the presence of analyte at clinically relevant nM concentration without the need for further motor driven concentration. Our analysis suggests that exchange of polyclonal for monoclonal antibodies would be a critical improvement, opening for a first clinically useful molecular motor driven lab-on-a-chip device.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Magnetic field, Blood, Magnetism, Actin, Molecular motor, Motor


The design of artificial molecular machines often takes inspiration from macroscopic machines. However, the parallels between the two systems are often only superficial, because most molecular machines are governed by quantum processes. Previously, rotary molecular motors powered by light and chemical energy have been developed. In electrically driven motors, tunnelling electrons from the tip of a scanning tunnelling microscope have been used to drive the rotation of a simple rotor in a single direction and to move a four-wheeled molecule across a surface. Here, we show that a stand-alone molecular motor adsorbed on a gold surface can be made to rotate in a clockwise or anticlockwise direction by selective inelastic electron tunnelling through different subunits of the motor. Our motor is composed of a tripodal stator for vertical positioning, a five-arm rotor for controlled rotations, and a ruthenium atomic ball bearing connecting the static and rotational parts. The directional rotation arises from sawtooth-like rotational potentials, which are solely determined by the internal molecular structure and are independent of the surface adsorption site.

Concepts: DNA, Electron, Molecule, Chemistry, Atom, Molecular motor, Rotation, Motor