An interdisciplinary group of nanotechnologists from the departments of physics and biology at Brandeis University developed self-assembling bundles, composed of microtubules and molecular motors, that exhibit beating motion similar to those shown by cilia and flagella of eukaryotic cells.
This research is being reported in the latest issue of Science. The big idea, besides learning how clicia and flagella function, is to be able to create nanovesicles loaded with organ-specific drugs and attach these particles to artificial nanocilia so they can deliver the payloads to a distant site.
Here’s more from Brandeis:
Their experimental system was comprised of three main components: microtubule filaments — tiny hollow cylinders found in both animal and plant cells, motor proteins called kinesin, which consume chemical fuel to move along microtubules and a bundling agent that induces assembly of filaments into bundles.
Sanchez and colleagues found that under a particular set of conditions these very simple components spontaneously organize into active bundles that beat in a periodic manner.
In addition to observing the beating of isolated bundles, the researchers were also able to assemble a dense field of bundles that spontaneously synchronized their beating patterns into traveling waves.
Self-organizing processes of many kinds have recently become a focus of the physics community. These processes range in scale from microscopic cellular functions and swarms of bacteria to macroscopic phenomena such as flocking of birds and traffic jams. Since controllable experiments with birds, crowds at football stadiums and traffic are virtually impossible to conduct, the experiments described by Sanchez and colleagues could serve as a model for testing a broad range of theoretical predictions.
In addition, the reproduction of such an essential biological functionality in a simple system will be of great interest to the fields of cellular and evolutionary biology, Dogic says. The findings also open a door for the development of one of the major goals of nanotechnology — to design an object that’s capable of swimming independently.
Abstract in Science: Cilia-Like Beating of Active Microtubule Bundles