Scientists in the UK have developed a microscopic molecular machine that can be used to assemble individual molecules. The technology could allow scientists to build drug molecules from scratch, as well as help with drug discovery.
The molecular robots are only a millionth of a millimeter in size and each has a tiny robotic arm. They use their arm to move and manipulate molecules, and can join molecules together to generate more complex structures. Each device consists of only 150 carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen atoms, and a pile of them, consisting of a billion billion individual machines, would be the same size as a grain of salt.
The molecular robots work in special solutions that promote certain chemical reactions. The researchers used chemicals as inputs to control the devices. They relied on different chemical signals to program the machines to perform a series of tasks, such as assembling drug molecules.
“All matter is made up of atoms and these are the basic building blocks that form molecules. Our robot is literally a molecular robot constructed of atoms, just like you can build a very simple robot out of Lego bricks,” said David Leigh, a scientist at the University of Manchester, who was involved in the research.
“It is similar to the way robots are used on a car assembly line. Those robots pick up a panel and position it so that it can be riveted in the correct way to build the bodywork of a car,” explains Leigh. “So, just like the robot in the factory, our molecular version can be programmed to position and rivet components in different ways to build different products, just on a much smaller scale at a molecular level.”
The benefit of such microscopic robots for making drugs is that they can massively reduce the demand for raw materials. The tiny workers could accelerate the drug discovery process, while using less materials.
Study in Nature: Stereodivergent synthesis with a programmable molecular machine…