Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click on 'Find out more' to see our Cookie statement.

Researchers from the University of Oxford have constructed a "molecular hopper", capable of moving single strands of DNA through a protein nanotube.

Artist's impression of the molecular hopper

The tiny hopper works by making and breaking in sequence simple chemical bonds that attach it to a nanoscale track. This can be turned on, off or reversed by a small electrical potential, which ultimately might make it suitable for use in nanopore DNA sequencing devices.

Professor Hagan Bayley of Oxford University’s Department of Chemistry, who led the research, said: ‘Being able to control molecular motion is the holy grail of building nanoscale machines. Being able to process single molecules of DNA under precise chemical control may provide an alternative to the use of enzymes in DNA sequencing technologies, improving their speed and the number of molecules that can be analysed in parallel.’

The 2016 Nobel Prize was awarded in part for the construction of molecules with sliding and rotating elements, demonstrating the importance of this technology to many fields. The Oxford team have significantly progressed this technology by producing molecules that make sub-nanometer hopping steps that can be detected one at a time and are subject to external control.

The hopper currently takes a few seconds for each step, and the researchers now seek to increase the speed of the chemistry as well as the length of the track, which is presently limited to six footholds.

How the hopper works

The hopping motion uses very simple chemistry based on 3 sulfur atoms [thiol/ disulfide interchange], which occurs in water at room temperature. The hopper takes sub-nanometer steps (0.7 nm), and is powered and controlled by an electric field; the direction of hopping can be switched by reversing the electric field. All this is monitored in real-time at the single molecule level.

A ratcheting motion is required for nanopore sequencing, which at present is achieved by using an enzyme. The hopping motion in the newly published device is a chemical ratchet and this principle might be applied to DNA and RNA sequencing because the step-size is similar to the inter-nucleotide distance in single-stranded DNA.

The full paper, ‘Directional control of a processive molecular hopper,’ can be read in the Journal Science.

Similar stories

Oxford researchers elected to Royal Society

Award MPLS Medical science

Six scientists from the University of Oxford, including four from MPLS, have joined the Royal Society as Fellows.

Oxford University and Prenetics announce landmark collaboration to scale rapid testing tech globally

Biomedical engineering COVID-19 Engineering Innovation and Enterprise MPLS

Today, the University of Oxford, Prenetics Limited, a global leader in diagnostics and genetic testing, and Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research (OSCAR) have signed collaboration agreements to further develop the award-winning OxLAMP technology, a rapid, molecular testing technology for infectious diseases.

£100 million donation from Ineos to create new institute to fight antimicrobial resistance

Chemistry Funding Medical science Zoology

Ineos, one of the world’s largest manufacturing companies, and the University of Oxford are launching a new world-leading institute to combat the growing global issue of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which currently causes an estimated 1.5 million excess deaths each year.

Eight Oxford researchers, including five from MPLS, awarded major European Research Council funding

Chemistry Engineering Funding Plant sciences Zoology

European Research Council grants worth more than €16.3 million have been awarded to University of Oxford researchers for a range of cutting-edge projects.

$10 million gift for new Nanoscience Institute in Oxford

Biomedical engineering Chemistry Engineering Funding Materials science Medical science Physics

A new institute for nanoscience research is to open in Oxford thanks to a $10 million gift from The Kavli Foundation.

Top numbers of Oxford researchers make Highly Cited Researchers list

MPLS Research

Oxford University is delighted that 52 of its academics have been named on the annual Highly Cited Researchers™ 2020 list from Clarivate. This is the highest number of any institution in the UK and 2nd highest in Europe.

Similar stories

Oxford researchers elected to Royal Society

Award MPLS Medical science

Six scientists from the University of Oxford, including four from MPLS, have joined the Royal Society as Fellows.

Oxford University and Prenetics announce landmark collaboration to scale rapid testing tech globally

Biomedical engineering COVID-19 Engineering Innovation and Enterprise MPLS

Today, the University of Oxford, Prenetics Limited, a global leader in diagnostics and genetic testing, and Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research (OSCAR) have signed collaboration agreements to further develop the award-winning OxLAMP technology, a rapid, molecular testing technology for infectious diseases.

£100 million donation from Ineos to create new institute to fight antimicrobial resistance

Chemistry Funding Medical science Zoology

Ineos, one of the world’s largest manufacturing companies, and the University of Oxford are launching a new world-leading institute to combat the growing global issue of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which currently causes an estimated 1.5 million excess deaths each year.

Eight Oxford researchers, including five from MPLS, awarded major European Research Council funding

Chemistry Engineering Funding Plant sciences Zoology

European Research Council grants worth more than €16.3 million have been awarded to University of Oxford researchers for a range of cutting-edge projects.

$10 million gift for new Nanoscience Institute in Oxford

Biomedical engineering Chemistry Engineering Funding Materials science Medical science Physics

A new institute for nanoscience research is to open in Oxford thanks to a $10 million gift from The Kavli Foundation.

Top numbers of Oxford researchers make Highly Cited Researchers list

MPLS Research

Oxford University is delighted that 52 of its academics have been named on the annual Highly Cited Researchers™ 2020 list from Clarivate. This is the highest number of any institution in the UK and 2nd highest in Europe.