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RETRACTED ARTICLE: Intrinsically unidirectional chemically fuelled rotary molecular motors

This article was retracted on 10 July 2023

This article has been updated


Biological systems mainly utilize chemical energy to fuel autonomous molecular motors, enabling the system to be driven out of equilibrium1. Taking inspiration from rotary motors such as the bacterial flagellar motor2 and adenosine triphosphate synthase3, and building on the success of light-powered unidirectional rotary molecular motors4,5,6, scientists have pursued the design of synthetic molecular motors solely driven by chemical energy7,8,9,10,11,12,13. However, designing artificial rotary molecular motors operating autonomously using a chemical fuel and simultaneously featuring the intrinsic structural design elements to allow full 360° unidirectional rotary motion like adenosine triphosphate synthase remains challenging. Here we show that a homochiral biaryl Motor-3, with three distinct stereochemical elements, is a rotary motor that undergoes repetitive and unidirectional 360° rotation of the two aryl groups around a single-bond axle driven by a chemical fuel. It undergoes sequential ester cyclization, helix inversion and ring opening, and up to 99% unidirectionality is realized over the autonomous rotary cycle. The molecular rotary motor can be operated in two modes: synchronized motion with pulses of a chemical fuel and acid–base oscillations; and autonomous motion in the presence of a chemical fuel under slightly basic aqueous conditions. This rotary motor design with intrinsic control over the direction of rotation, simple chemical fuelling for autonomous motion and near-perfect unidirectionality illustrates the potential for future generations of multicomponent machines to perform mechanical functions.

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Fig. 1: Schematic representation of the design and concept of the continuously rotary molecular motor.
Fig. 2: Verifying the unidirectional 360° rotation of the molecular motor by desymmetrization of the lower stator.
Fig. 3: Synchronized 360° rotation with pulses of chemical fuel and acid–base oscillations.
Fig. 4: Continuous rotation of the molecular motor.

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Data availability

Details on the procedures, characterization and references, including spectra of new compounds and compounds made using the reported method, are available in Supplementary Information. Crystallographic data for (S,S')-Motor-1-Me, (R,S')-3-Me, Motor-1-K, Motor-1-T-MOM and Motor-Br-Me can be obtained free of charge from under CCDC deposition numbers 2170186, 2170187, 2170188, 2170189 and 2170190.

Change history

  • 22 December 2022

    Editor’s Note: Readers are alerted that the authors have discovered that the motion of molecular motor reported in this paper appears to be very sensitive to pH change, which occurs during fuel consumption. A further editorial response will follow the based on the investigation of this issue.

  • 10 July 2023

    This article has been retracted. Please see the Retraction Notice for more detail:


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We are grateful for the support of this work by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (21971267), the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities, Sun Yat-sen University (22lgqb34) and the programme for Guangdong Introducing Innovative and Entrepreneurial Teams (2017ZT07C069). B.L.F. acknowledges financial support from the European Research Council (ERC; advanced grant number 694345 to B.L.F.) and the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (Gravitation programme number 024.001.035).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



D.Z., K.M., Y.Z. and B.L.F. conceived the project. K.M., Y.Z., Z.D. and X.M. carried out the synthesis and characterized the motion of the molecular motor. K.M. and Y.Y. performed all XRD measurements and structural analysis. D.Z. and B.L.F. guided the research; K.M., Y.Z., D.Z. and B.L.F wrote the manuscript. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Ben L. Feringa or Depeng Zhao.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Nature thanks He Tian and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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This article has been retracted. Please see the retraction notice for more detail:

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 Single-crystal structures of 3-Me, Motor-1-Me, Motor-1-K and MOM-derived thermodynamic product (Motor-1-T-MOM).

(a) The absolute configuration of molecular motors was unambiguously established by single-crystal X-ray diffraction as well (Here, the S or R denotes the configuration of the chiral centre at the α position of carboxylic acid group, S’ or R’ denotes the configuration of the chiral centre of the benzyl position). Single crystal X-ray diffraction experiments of the corresponding methyl esters 3-Me and Motor-1-Me were performed to gain insight into the relationship between configurations and cyclization selectivity. The results indicated the orientation of the carboxylic group is key to realize high selectivity of cyclization. Viewed along the biaryl C–C bond (the axle of rotation), the carboxylic group in (S,S’)-syn-isomer−1 favours bridge formation with the hydroxyl group on the right of the stator aryl to generate exclusively the kinetic isomer. However, the methyl group at the α-position of the carboxylic group in (R,S’)-anti-isomer 3 blocked the carboxylic group from reacting with hydroxyl group on the right side of the stator aryl and therefore cyclized with the left hydroxyl group to give dominantly a thermodynamic isomer. (b) Single-crystal X-Ray diffraction of Motor-1-K and MOM-protected Motor-1-T-MOM confirmed that the rotational direction of Motor-1 was clockwise. It is interesting to note the favoured tub-shaped conformation of the eight-membered ring in Motor-1-T and Motor-1-K. In Motor-1-K, the methyl group adopts a pseudoaxial orientation while the methoxy group is located in a pseudoequatorial position. However, in the case of Motor-1-T, the methoxy group is in a pseudoaxial orientation and the methyl group adopts a pseudoequatorial position. The eight-membered ring flipping can be explained by Winstein–Holness A value which is used to describe the conformational preference of an equatorial compared to an axial substituent in a substituted cyclohexane. As the A value of a methyl group (1.7 kcal/mol) is larger than the A value of a methoxy group (0.6 kcal/mol), the methyl group has a strong tendency for the equatorial position which also drives the helix inversion of the biaryl and the conversion of Motor-1-K to Motor-1-T (P to M).

Extended Data Fig. 2 1H NMR spectra of three stations of Motor-1.

1H NMR spectra of three states (Motor-1, Motor-1-K, Motor-1-T) during the 180° unidirectional rotation. In the first step, Motor-1 was cyclized to give a high-energy isomer Motor-1-K in the presence of the fuel EDC in DCM at 0 °C and this is the only energy input step in the half cycle of rotation. Motor-1-K unstable isomer then underwent an energetic downhill helix inversion to yield the Motor-1-T with a final ratio of T/K = 4/1. Analysis of the kinetic data provided the Gibbs free energy of activation ΔG° = 103.6 kJ/mol (t1/2 = 45 h at 298.15 K) (Supplementary Fig. 9).

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This Supplementary Information file contains 17 sections and includes 40 figures and 5 tables.

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Mo, K., Zhang, Y., Dong, Z. et al. RETRACTED ARTICLE: Intrinsically unidirectional chemically fuelled rotary molecular motors. Nature 609, 293–298 (2022).

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