Harnessing biological motors to engineer systems for nanoscale transport and assembly

Nat Nanotechnol. 2008 Aug;3(8):465-75. doi: 10.1038/nnano.2008.190. Epub 2008 Jul 27.


Living systems use biological nanomotors to build life's essential molecules--such as DNA and proteins--as well as to transport cargo inside cells with both spatial and temporal precision. Each motor is highly specialized and carries out a distinct function within the cell. Some have even evolved sophisticated mechanisms to ensure quality control during nanomanufacturing processes, whether to correct errors in biosynthesis or to detect and permit the repair of damaged transport highways. In general, these nanomotors consume chemical energy in order to undergo a series of shape changes that let them interact sequentially with other molecules. Here we review some of the many tasks that biomotors perform and analyse their underlying design principles from an engineering perspective. We also discuss experiments and strategies to integrate biomotors into synthetic environments for applications such as sensing, transport and assembly.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Biological Transport
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase / chemistry
  • Micromanipulation
  • Microtubules / chemistry
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Molecular Motor Proteins / chemistry
  • Nanostructures / chemistry*
  • Nanostructures / ultrastructure
  • Nanotechnology / methods*
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Transport


  • Molecular Motor Proteins
  • DNA-Directed DNA Polymerase