In the new project, the three research groups will build biological molecular engines from scratch, to better understand how they work. The picture shows the structure of a so-called clocked walker that needs a track and the movements are passively driven by the chemical environment.
A more complex type of molecules in the project are the autonomous motors that can use the energy from ATP. The ultimate goal is to understand what happens when proteins generate movement from chemical fuel. In its natural environment, the cell, the energy is called ATP, but in a molecular motor the proteins are “fed” in a slightly different manner. However, a well-known principle in physics is probably the same for all molecular motors: the ability to make use of the random movements of the molecules. “We want to test our theoretical models by bringing them to life with proteins”, says Heiner Linke.
The three research groups in the synergy grant are led by Heiner Linke (Solid State Physics), Birte Höcker (Bayreuth) and Paul Curmi (Sydney).
Linke and his Australian colleague Paul Curmi began discussing the idea in Sydney, where Linke did his postdoc between 1998–2001. “This is an old dream that we started working seriously on just over ten years ago, but we had a hard time finding joint funding for. It will be great fun to pick this back up”, says Heiner Linke. Birte Höcker, professor at the University of Bayreuth completes the team with experience in experimental and computational protein design as well as synthetic biology. This includes protein de novo design as well as engineering of protein structures, small-molecule receptors and enzymes.
The project’s success will also impact the design and building of other proteins with other functions, such as new enzymes. Whereas the project is basic research, potential applications include biocomputers and drug release.