A team of scientists at Manchester University, UK, have created a microscopic machine capable of building proteins similar to ones found naturally in the body’s many cells. Just a few millionths of a millimetre in size, the minute machine resembles a ring threaded on a rod. “A ‘reactive arm’ is attached to the ring and works its way down the rod, removing and stacking the amino acid units bound to the rod. A key point is that the sequence for a new polymer chain comes from the scientists. It is controlled by the chemical groups placed along the rod structure.”
What’s the Big Idea?
The ultimate goal of the machine is to synthesize mew drug molecules, not unlike how large quantities of medicines are currently made. “[J]ust as insulin for diabetics today is produced in vast vats by engineered microbes, so in the future the Manchester team envisages containers carrying millions upon millions of their artificial machines all churning out the programmed molecules.” And because the scientists’ machine is not limited by nature’s building blocks, they hope to be able to construct new kinds of plastic, catalysts and pharmaceuticals.