Technical Report note

Bacteria may lead to nano bearings

Serious money is being sunk into researching nano mechanisms on the molecular scale found in nature and how they might be improved and put to use. In Australia, Geoff Leach at the Department of Computer Science at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology has developed a CAD programme called Crystal Sketchpad for the design of molecular nanostructures, devices and components, including bearings.

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Making such incredibly small devices is not as fanciful as it might appear. A large number of bacteria, including the notorious E. coli, have rotating motors and bearings driving the flagellar filaments that propel them. A note by Professor Milton Saier, who works in the Division of Biology at the University of California, San Diego, explains the mechanism at

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He says that the motor in E. coli is believed to consist of two proteins, MotA and MotB, which comprise the stator. MotA interacts with FliG, a cytoplasmic component of the rotor via electrostatic interactions.

In other words, some bacteria are equipped with electrostatic motors and bearings far smaller than any that have so far been made out of steel or silicon. The question now seems to be whether it would be best to engineer future nano machines in a traditional way, building them up molecule by molecule, or by bioengineering bacteria, which are already suitably equipped, into organisms that can perform useful tasks. Both routes appear perfectly feasible. Atom by atom construction can already be demonstrated, and bioengineering advances every day. The nanobots from the realms of fiction are very close! More information can be found at: TS

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