Molecular shuttles based on motor proteins: active transport in synthetic environments

J Biotechnol. 2001 Nov;82(1):67-85. doi: 10.1016/s1389-0352(01)00029-0.


Active transport in cells, utilizing molecular motors like kinesin and myosin, provides the inspiration for the integration of active transport into synthetic devices. Hybrid devices, employing motor proteins in a synthetic environment, are the first prototypes of molecular shuttles. Here the basic characteristics of motor proteins are discussed from an engineering point of view, and the experiments aimed at incorporating motor proteins, such as myosins and kinesins, into devices are reviewed. The key problems for the construction of a molecular shuttle are: guiding the direction of motion, controlling the speed, and loading and unloading of cargo. Various techniques, relying on surface topography and chemistry as well as flow fields and electric fields, have been developed to guide the movement of molecular shuttles on surfaces. The control of ATP concentration, acting as a fuel supply, can serve as a means to control the speed of movement. The loading process requires the coupling of cargo to the shuttle, ideally by a strong and specific link. Applications of molecular shuttles can be envisioned, e.g. in the field of nano-electro-mechanical systems (NEMS), where scaling laws favor active transport over fluid flow, and in the bottom-up assembly of novel materials.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Engineering
  • Humans
  • Kinesin / chemistry
  • Molecular Motor Proteins* / chemical synthesis
  • Molecular Motor Proteins* / chemistry
  • Myosins / chemistry
  • Nanotechnology*


  • Molecular Motor Proteins
  • Myosins
  • Kinesin