Professor David Leigh’s group have made the first synthetic walking molecules that move directionally along molecular tracks.
Nanomotors are used throughout biology to perform tasks. Spectacular examples include the motor protein myosin that makes muscles contract by walking along molecular tracks in the cell. Professor David Leigh's group have made the first synthetic walking molecules that move directionally along molecular tracks. The ultimate goal of such research is to produce artificial molecular vehicles that can transport cargoes and perform other complex tasks at the nanoscale. However, such 'molecular engineering' is not easy: at the molecular level gravity is too weak to hold the walkers onto tracks and special molecular glue, footholds and attachment points all have to be carefully designed to make a successful walking molecule (see video).
Perhaps the best way to appreciate the technological potential of nanomotors like these is to recognise that molecular-level machines lie at the heart of every significant biological process. Over billions of years of evolution Nature has not repeatedly chosen this solution for achieving complex task performance without good reason. When we learn how to build artificial molecular motors and machines it will provide a nano-technological revolution!
For further reading see the "A synthetic small molecule that can walk down a track" article abstract in Nature Chemistry.