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A piconewton-forcemeter assembled from kinesin and microtubules and other devices based on motor proteins

Henry Hess*, John Clemmens, Robert Doot, Robert Tucker, and Viola Vogel

Department of Bioengineering, University of Washington,
Seattle, WA 98195 USA

This is an abstract for a presentation given at the
10th Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology


Inspired by the widespread use of motor proteins in nature, our research aims at integrating these advanced molecular motors into synthetic devices (1). We are focusing on the linear motors, such as myosins and kinesins, who primarily serve as actuators and transporters in nature. Consequently, we design nanodevices which utilize the particular strengths of these highly efficient nanometer-sized machines. Examples for this approach are the "molecular shuttle" (2), a nanoscale transport system, or "Monte-Carlo imaging" (3), a surface imaging method based on the random sampling of a surface by nanoscale probe-robots.

The microscopic dimensions of nanodevices allow us to use non-intuitive mechanisms to achieve engineering objectives. An example for such a mechanism is a "Brownian ratchet", which utilizes Brownian motion to achieve directed transport. We will discuss under which circumstances this mechanism can be applied in a sorting device for molecular shuttles (4).

Finally, we will present a new technique to measure molecular forces of a few piconewton, and at loading rates of less than a piconewton per second. Since this force range and these loading rates closely mimic in-vivo conditions, the technique is particularly suited for the study of receptor-ligand binding in biology.


  1. Hess, H. & Vogel, V.: "Molecular shuttles based on motor proteins: Active transport in synthetic environments" (2001) Reviews in Molecular Biotechnology 82, 67-85.
  2. Hess, H., Clemmens, J., Qin, D., Howard, J. & Vogel, V.: "Light-Controlled Molecular Shuttles Made from Motor Proteins Carrying Cargo on Engineered Surfaces" (2001) Nano Letters 1, 235-239.
  3. Hess, H., Clemmens, J., Howard, J. & Vogel, V.: "Surface Imaging by Self-Propelled Nanoscale Probes" (2002) Nano Letters 2, 113-116.
  4. Hess, H., Clemmens, J., Matzke, C. M., Bachand, G. D., Bunker, B. C., Howard, J. & Vogel, V.: "Ratchet patterns sort molecular shuttles" (2002) Appl. Phys. A 75, 309-313.

*Corresponding Address:
Henry Hess
Department of Bioengineering, University of Washington
Box 351721, Seattle, WA 98195 USA
Phone: (206) 616-4194 Fax: (206) 685-4434


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