Peptide-Powered Protein 'Lawnmower' Gets into the Weeds of Molecular Motors

SFU's 'Lawnmower' motor, which efficiently clears a path through peptide 'grass,' not only sheds light on nature's intricate machinery but also reveals insights into biological locomotion, potentially revolutionizing medicine and biocomputing
Emerging Technologies
February 27, 2024

A pioneering collaboration led by SFU has created a synthetic protein-based motor engineered to harness biological reactions for its propulsion. Drawing a vivid analogy, SFU Physics professor Nancy Forde, a study co-author, explained, “Imagine if a Roomba could be powered only by the dirt it picks up.”

The team, spearheaded by SFU Physics PhD graduate Chapin Korosec, introduced "The Lawnmower," a protein-based molecular motor primed to trim a lawn of peptide "grass" in a paper published in Nature Communications. This novel contraption utilizes trypsin, a digestive enzyme, to snip the peptides and transmute them into the requisite energy for its locomotion.

Experiments conducted by researchers at the SFU and Lund, Sweden, revealed The Lawnmower's autonomous mobility and capacity to navigate predefined trajectories, marking a pivotal stride towards versatile deployment. The study builds upon decades of inquiry into the roles of molecular motors in biological systems. These motors, ubiquitous across organisms, epitomize nature's efficiency, converting chemical energy from one form into another to catalyze essential functions ranging from cell division to cargo transport. 

The Lawnmower is the first protein-based motor synthesized from proteins from nature. Forde underscored the significance of such endeavors, stating, “If the rules that we’ve learned from studying nature’s molecular motors are correct and sufficient, then we should be able to build motors out of different protein parts and have them work in expected ways.”

The implications extend beyond the lab. Molecular motors may prove useful in future medical and biocomputing applications. Within the human body, motor proteins orchestrate crucial cargo transport within neurons, and a deep understanding of these molecular machines holds promise for insights into and interventions against motoneuron disorders, such as multiple sclerosis.

Additionally, mimicking biological processes with molecular machines could revolutionize healthcare delivery. “Influenza is thought to work as a molecular motor to infiltrate the area around cells to infect them," Forde elucidated. “Maybe synthetic motors could use the same approach, but rather than infecting cells, they could be engineered to deliver drug payloads to specifically target diseased cells.”

The true value of this innovation lies not in what it can achieve but in what it can tell us about natural systems. “We are inspired by the Nobel-prize-winning physicist, Richard Feynman, who famously wrote, ‘What I cannot create, I do not understand.’ Our team’s work aims to test our understanding of the fundamental operational principles of molecular machines by trying to create them from scratch.”

Related Articles

No items found.