continued, with a special focus on developing and characterizng materials with novel properties.
The relevance of the NNI to biology, biotechnology, and the life sciences cannot be overstated. Cellular processes and molecular biology techniques are inherently nanoscale phenomena. By elucidating cellular mechanisms, molecular biology provides us with a good textbook on nanoscale technology. However, the true challenge is to (create ways to) construct nanodevices and systems capable of complex functions. Nature integrates biological molecules into functioning three-dimensional macrostructures. Nevertheless, while we already have a good understanding of how nature works, we are not yet able to create synthetic systems that rival nature’s elegance.
At the nanoscale, cells record information, process information, carry out a set of instructions, transform energy from one form to another, replicate themselves, and adapt to changing environments in ways that allow optimal performance of necessary tasks. Biological systems provide great inspiration for the design of functional nanoscale structures and can also help us learn how to organize nanostructures into much larger systems. Understanding biological phenomena at the nanoscale will be central to our continuing drive to understand cell function. It may also lead to biomimetic models for harnessing and duplicating organic-based functional systems for nonbiological applications, which is the idea behind such concepts as DNA computing. Box 4.3 provides an elegant example
Sensing and actuation in living systems are based on nanometer-scale mechanisms (protein-protein interactions). As nanotechnology advances, the merging of natural and synthetic modalities will provide novel approaches to nanoscale system design and application.
One ubiquitous natural actuator is the ATPase motor, a few hundred nanometers in size, that utilizes naturally occurring substances to provide actuation in living systems. Nanotechnology is allowing scientists to fabricate inorganic materials at the same scale. By merging the two (natural and synthetic), researchers have attached a nanopropeller to a natural ATPase motor (Figure 4.3.1). The propeller rotated at approximately 10 revolutions per second for several hours (Ricky K. Soong et al., “Powering an Inorganic Nanodevice with a Biomolecular Motor,” Science 290:1555-1558). Such hybrid nanodevices lay the foundation for building complex nanosystems capable of performing complex functions useful in medical and environmental applications.
FIGURE 4.3.1 A nanoscale motor created by attaching a synthetic rotor to an ATP synthase. Reprinted with permission of the American Association for the Advancement of Science from Soong et al., Science 290, 1555 (2000). © 2000 by AAAS.