DNA nanotrain

A DNA-powered motor ‘walks’ along a strand of DNA. Credit: Julián Valero/Nature Nanotechnol.

Nanoscience and technology

Speedy nanoengine zooms along DNA tracks

Molecular device stays on the straight and narrow.

A minuscule motor with a DNA rotor is one of the fastest and most controllable ‘walking’ molecules ever created.

Nanometre-scale engines are crucial components of nanorobots, but controlling the direction of their movement has proved challenging. Michael Famulok at the University of Bonn in Germany and his colleagues designed a molecular motor that consists of a rotor made of DNA interlocked with a ring made, in part, from an enzyme that synthesizes RNA. As the rotor spins, the enzyme produces RNA transcripts that hang off the engine.

The team laid out DNA for the RNA transcripts to bind to, forming ‘tracks’ for the engine to follow. On these tracks, the motor could cover more than 10 nanometres per minute —making it one of the fastest nanoengines yet made.

Such devices could power sophisticated nanorobots, the authors write.