An industrial revolution on a minute scale is taking place in laboratories at The University of Manchester with the development of a highly complex machine that mimics how molecules are made in nature.
The artificial molecular machine developed by Professor David Leigh FRS and his team in the School of Chemistry is the most advanced molecular machine of its type in the world. Its development has been published in the journal Science.
Professor Leigh explains: "The development of this machine which uses molecules to make molecules in a synthetic process is similar to the robotic assembly line in car plants. Such machines could ultimately lead to the process of making molecules becoming much more efficient and cost effective. This will benefit all sorts of manufacturing areas as many manmade products begin at a molecular level. For example, we're currently modifying our machine to make drugs such as penicillin."
The machine is just a few nanometres long (a few millionths of a millimetre) and can only be seen using special instruments. Its creation was inspired by natural complex molecular factories where information from DNA is used to programme the linking of molecular building blocks in the correct order. The most extraordinary of these factories is the ribosome, a massive molecular machine found in all living cells.
Professor Leigh's machine is based on the ribosome. It features a functionalized nanometre-sized ring that moves along a molecular track, picking up building blocks located on the path and connecting them together in a specific order to synthesize the desired new molecule.
First the ring is threaded onto a molecular strand using copper ions to direct the assembly process. Then a "reactive arm" is attached to the rest of the machine and it starts to operate. The ring moves up and down the strand until its path is blocked by a bulky group. The reactive arm then detaches the obstruction from the
|Contact: Morwenna Grills|
University of Manchester