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A Traffic Control System For Molecules 64

Posted by Zonk
from the turn-right-at-the-corpuscle dept.
Roland Piquepaille writes "Our cells contain small protein factories which have to deliver materials inside the cell via a network of microtubules. And the transportation is carried out by biomolecular motors. Now, researchers from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands have built a traffic control system able to force individual molecules to choose between 'roads' by applying strong electrical fields locally at Y-junctions. This traffic control system can potentially lead to new nano-fabrication techniques. Read more for additional references and pictures showing how this traffic system works."
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A Traffic Control System For Molecules

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  • by Quirk (36086) on Monday May 15, 2006 @01:59AM (#15332727) Homepage Journal
    As anyone who has to make a long commute to and from work knows, we've got traffic control down and running smoothly. Nothing could go wrong here.
  • interference (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spacerodent (790183) on Monday May 15, 2006 @02:02AM (#15332735)
    With the tiny charges they're using would this ever be effective outside the lab setting? I would imagine that the crazy EMF of every day life would seriously fuck these up
    • One obvious application: computing. Design the controlling apparatus (or just the connection to the controlling apparatus) to an appropriate size and you have a transistor replacement. From one of the artists' interpretation pictures (Not always 100% acccurate, I know) I see the possibility of directing one incoming atom in 4 possible directions. Why could this not be made a more efficient replacement than a single transistor, with a single 1/0 possibility?
  • Troll! (Score:2, Funny)

    by SEWilco (27983)
    Halt, troll molecule!
    Get under that bridge!
  • by Umbral Blot (737704) on Monday May 15, 2006 @02:11AM (#15332753) Homepage
    All that's missing are tiny traffic cops who hand out tiner speed tickets.
  • Minature Train Set! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sc0p3 (972992) <jaredbroad@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Monday May 15, 2006 @02:17AM (#15332771) Homepage Journal
    Hottest toy for next Christmas! Train sets so small you can't see them!
    Seriously though, as a biomedical engineer, this is bloody scary.

    This was the first time that this orientation-dependency of the electrophoretic mobility was observed.

    - This occurs in the body, we have microtubles and kinesin in all our cells. The 'research' has shown for *years* that magnetic fields have *no* effect on cancer etc.. so.. it controls Kinesin, but wont affect cells? please.
    • This occurs in the body, we have microtubles and kinesin in all our cells. The 'research' has shown for *years* that magnetic fields have *no* effect on cancer etc.. so.. it controls Kinesin, but wont affect cells? please.

      Imagine a society that progresses slowly but their citizens live a happy natural life among plenty of trees, flowers and animals, technology where there is even a remote possibility to affect health or nature in a bad way is developed and carefully tested for the span of over 70 years whil
    • The fact that you dont even know the difference between electric and magnetic fields shows that you shouldnt be a) talking shit and b) not the highest modded post.

      (hint: take a look at the involved field strenghts, too. To get an effect inside ones body, you would have to be hit by lightning or something)
    • "Our bodies have things that are affected by EM fields" does not magically equal "causes cancer."

      Cancer is caused by genetic damage, not microtubles or kinesin being pointed this way or that. The research is faily conclusive: if it caused cancer, then we'd find more cancer in those with more exposure to the fields. We don't. We may not know exactly what effects large EM fields have on the body, but there is no tangible evidence that cancer is one of them.

      Furthermore, tiny, carefully directed EM fields ar
      • Im not saying that it causes cancer, Im simply saying that it will affect cells. Kinesin transports substances within cells, pretty much all substances. This includes DNA through the pores in the nucleus membrane and proteins to the rough ER. If these get mis-directed cells can malfunction, cancer is simply mutated DNA. Malfunctions will make mutations more likely.

        MRI machines have magnetic fields in many many tesla's. I doubt they can recreate this field strength on a chip, so they make use of the dista
  • OK.... (Score:2, Funny)

    by suv4x4 (956391)
    Ok, so traffic control system for molecules, damn it this means nothing to me... What do I post, what do I post.. Heh a joke always works when you got not clue! I'll ask what the equivalent of traffic cops or talk how "that's the place you don't want a traffic jam to happen". Nah cheesy as hell.

    No, wait... I'll voice a concern that's totally unfounded and blow it out of proportions. Nano technology omg, will take over people and turn 'em into zombies! No wait, I'll look more intelligent if it's a question:
    • you forgot the following slash-cliches:

      I'm confused and hurt, like a kicked puppy or a rape victim. Why aren't you using this [google.com] obscure and inferior technology which is similar only in that the press releases share words?

      Cool! so does that mean that $favourite_scifi_cliche will become true within 5 years? If not, why do you hate me personally?

    • Damn it, I think today's not my day... I'll go watch my downloaded episodes of Star Trek and see later.

      Get with the times man. Geeks don't watch Star Trek anymore. That's for the masses.
  • awesome work (Score:1, Insightful)

    by monkeyos (957157)
    but really, this is awesome work, this means we can have algorithmic control over the mixture and separation of proteins. good for making new stuff, but also good for investigating the interplay between information and biochemistry
    • Re:awesome work (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TapeCutter (624760)
      Before we can have "algorithmic control over the mixture and separation of proteins", we need a way to indetify the protiens and tie it to the switching mechanisim. In TFA the researchers used coloured protiens and appear to have switched each "junction" manually. Having said that, it's a neat trick!

      OTOH: Early model computers used manually operated telephone switches.
  • What took so long? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sbhobdell (38638) on Monday May 15, 2006 @07:09AM (#15333302) Homepage
    This is all a bit old hat, isn't it?
    I was pushing bloodcells around using dielectrophoresis in Uni over a decade ago. Shortly thereafter, water was being tested for purity using the same method, and one of the post-docs was moving tagged proteins around too.
    How come it took so long to create a system to be used in protein manufacture?
    examples:
    http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/abs_free.jsp?arNumb er=297897 [ieee.org] (1994)
    http://www.biophysj.org/cgi/content/abstract/77/1/ 516 [biophysj.org] (1994)
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd= Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=9351287&dopt=Citation [nih.gov] (1997)
    • by pimpimpim (811140) on Monday May 15, 2006 @08:52AM (#15333581)
      Well (disclaimer: I did not really read any of the articles), dielectrophoresis seems a 'static' separation technique, to influence position of particles, and this stuff from Cees Dekker seems a sort of dynamic procedure to influence flow of particles, which is a whole step more complex. I would take 10 years to go from one to the other ;)

      On a different note, I am a bit dissappointed that it is the same Cees Dekker who is a (or better: the only) big promotor in the Netherlands of the idea of Intelligent Design. This guy is doing such amazing research, that you start to wonder how he could ever combine this with the not very well-founded theory that ID is.

      Note to people with mod points: I am stating my personal opinion here: if you disagree, don't mod me down because of this opinion, but give decent replies. If you think the post is crappy for what it is, then mod as you wish.

  • by retrosteve (77918) on Monday May 15, 2006 @07:10AM (#15333305) Homepage Journal
    I always wondered when nanotech would get good enough to find out why (or if) Maxwell's Demon [wikipedia.org] was really impossible.

    Now soon we'll know.

    • Nice post (not heard this one before, despite being a big fan of thought experiments and entropy). ASadly the TFA does say there needs to be a "strong electrical field" applied locally, in order to flick the switch. Which I doubt costs less in energy than the Useful Heat gain from intelligent molecule selection and seperation.
    • Doesn't this technology allow a stream of moving molecules to be diverted down one path or another? So the Maxwell's Demon thought experiment would have to be modified so that the molecules would be pumped through a tube where they could be analysed and any that had a temperature above ambient would be diverted into the 'hot' pool, and any that were lower would be diverted back into the 'cold' pool.

      Then you have to take into account the pump, the analysis, and the diversion, which would probably cancel out
      • We're still missing the big one here re Maxwell's demon, which is that we're talking about a closed sytem, which means we need to include the energy gone into creating the Demon. In this case it would include the energy needed to produce human kind, inorder for the boffins to make the system, in order to order the molecules. Or would it? Because that would mean that we'd need to include the creation of the universe. Which means our little tubules have to process a LOT of hot and cold molecules.

        Paradox bu
    • Broadly speaking, the Fluctuation Theorem [wikipedia.org] makes it unlikely that you can get more energy out of the sorting than you will have to expend to accomplish the sorting. To put it another way, any sorting process that is not driven by an external energy input will be just as likely to run in reverse. In the classic Maxwell's demon example, a sorting process that can put hot molecules in a specific place will be just as likely to run in reverse and remove hot molecules from that place.

      It is interesting to note tha

    • IANAPhysicist, so could someone explain why this wouldn't work:

      The tunneling effect has been demonstrated. Particles can "jump" across materials, provided that their energy is high enough.

      So, if you just create a sheet of something that's the right thickness, then particles which don't have enough energy to make the jump will be absorbed in the sheet of material, and particles that are energetic enough will jump the gap. So, now, you have a Demon, filtering out particles below a certain threshold.
      • What prevents energetic particles from tunneling the other way?
        • On the subject of tunnels, it's not necessary for the tunnel to involve quantum effects. A simple mechanical tunnel that opened for brief intervals would achieve the same effect: only those atoms with enough speed to traverse the tunnel would be allowed through (effectively only allowing passage to high energy atoms).

          However, this mechanical tunnel has the same problem as the quantum tunnel - that the sorting is reversible (high energy atoms/electrons can go in both directions). For the mechanical tunnel, o

        • What prevents energetic particles from tunneling the other way?

          A big block of lead.
  • .. since we can't even make GPS devices that don't send people off cliffs or into rivers.
  • Or will they be charging a London-Style Congestion Charge?
  • choose between 'roads' by applying strong electrical fields locally at Y-junctions.

    Hate to think that the next time I get a strong static shock from someone that my cells are all going to go bonkers.

  • could this then be applied to cancer? i mean sorting out the cancerous and non-cancerous cells?
  • Men! Our patented Molecular Traffic Formula can add inches to your P3N1$ by directing molecules to build your length and girth!!!!!

"Kill the Wabbit, Kill the Wabbit, Kill the Wabbit!" -- Looney Tunes, "What's Opera Doc?" (1957, Chuck Jones)

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