Mol Switch Project Nanoactuator Opens New Vistas

The Mol Switch molecular magnetic switch Project has succeeded in creating a biological molecular motor - a nanoactuator - which "pulls" DNA to move a magnetic particle past a silicon-based detector. The Mol Switch nanoactuator is a molecular switch that links the biological and silicon worlds.


(Mol-Switch animation
The motors bind to DNA at a specific site and then
translocate the rest of the DNA through the bound motor
following the helical thread of DNA.)

The key to the Mol Switch device is that researchers have attached a paramagnetic bead to the end of the DNA strand, which can be used to stretch the DNA. Perhaps more remarkably, it produces a molecular dynamo effect allowing electronic output from the moving magnet. Here's how it works:

The team uses a microfluidics chip that includes a number of channels measured in nano-metres. The novelty of microfluidics is that it can channel liquids in laminar, or predictable, flow.

The floor of this channel is peppered with Hall-Effect sensors. The Hall Effect describes how a magnetic field influences an electric current. That influence can be measured to a high degree of accuracy. These measurements link the biological motor with the electronic signals of the silicon world.

The biological element of the device starts with a DNA molecule that's fixed to the floor of the microfluidic channel. This strand is held upright, like a string held up by a weather balloon, by anchoring the floating end of the DNA strand to a magnetic bead, itself held up under the influence of magnetism...

The motor is attached to the strand at the specific sequence of bases. Then the team introduces ATP, the phosphate molecule that provides energy within living cells, into the microfluidics channel. This is the fuel for the motor. The motor then pulls the upright DNA strand through it until it reaches the magnetic bead, like a winch lowering a weather balloon.

A Hall-Effect sensor can measure the vertical movement of the magnetic bead which indicates whether the switch is on or off.
(From Nano machine switches between biological and silicon worlds pdf)


(Molecular magnetic switch in action)

A nano-scale actuator should be a very useful device. Actuators supply and transmit a measured amount of energy for the operation of another mechanism or system. It can be a simple mechanical device, converting between different forms of mechanical energy. Or, it can convert mechanical movement into an electrical signal. Mol Switch nanoactuators could be used for flow-control valves, pumps, positioning drives, motors, switches, relays and biosensors.

The Mol Switch effort is an European Union-funded research project started in January of 2003; scientific teams in the U.K, France, Netherlands, Italy and the Czech Republic participated in bringing the project to a successful conclusion.

Read more about this amazing development in the Mol Switch press release and the Mol Switch project website; found this one at Physorg.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/25/2006)

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