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Highlights in Chemical Science

News from across RSC Publishing.

Putting the brakes on molecular vehicles

08 August 2006

Light triggers the brakes on a biomolecular nanodevice, say scientists in Japan.

Yoshiro Tatsu and colleagues at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, based in Osaka and Ibaraki, used light to slow down the movement of the motor protein kinesin. Kinesin transports cellular cargo such as chromosomes by moving along a network of microtubules (structural components of cells). 

For a cargo-carrying molecular vehicle to work, explained Tatsu, it must have a steering wheel, an accelerator, a carrier (which enables loading and unloading of cargo) and a brake. In the kinsesin system, Tatsu's team triggered the brake by using light.



A peptide, derived from part of the kinesin molecule, inhibits movement of the protein along the microtubule system.  When the peptide has a caging group attached, it no longer inhibits the protein.  Exposing the peptide to light switches it from the caged to the uncaged (active) state, allowing it to act as a brake.
Dan Nicolau, professor of  bionanoengineering at the University of Liverpool, UK, said the findings 'fill a critical gap in engineering knowledge and complement earlier and present work on photochemical control of motor work in hybrid nanodevices.'

Tatsu's work involves collaboration with biomolecular engineers, biophysicists and polymer chemists. 'Interdisciplinary work is required for the development of new science and technology,' said Tatsu. 'Molecular vehicles are still in an embryonic stage in nanobiotechnology,' he said, but the next step could be to look at the loading and unloading of cargo at desired positions. 

Katherine Davies


A Nomura, T Q P Uyeda, N Yumoto and Y Tatsu, Chem. Commun., 2006

DOI: 10.1039/b606538d