Nanopropulsion by biocatalytic self-assembly

Leckie, Joy and Hope, Alexander and Hughes, Meghan and Debnath, Sisir and Fleming, Scott and Wark, Alastair W. and Ulijn, Rein V. and Haw, Mark D. (2014) Nanopropulsion by biocatalytic self-assembly. ACS Nano, 8 (9). pp. 9580-9589. ISSN 1936-0851 (

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A number of organisms and organelles are capable of self-propulsion at the micro- and nanoscales. Production of simple man-made mimics of biological transportation systems may prove relevant to achieving movement in artificial cells and nano/micronscale robotics that may be of biological and nanotechnological importance. We demonstrate the propulsion of particles based on catalytically controlled molecular self-assembly and fiber formation at the particle surface. Specifically, phosphatase enzymes (acting as the engine) are conjugated to a quantum dot (the vehicle), and are subsequently exposed to micellar aggregates (fuel) that upon biocatalytic dephosphorylation undergo fibrillar self-assembly, which in turn causes propulsion. The motion of individual enzyme/quantum dot conjugates is followed directly using fluorescence microscopy. While overall movement remains random, the enzymeconjugates exhibit significantly faster transport in the presence of the fiber forming system, compared to controls without fuel, a non-self-assembling substrate, or a substrate which assembles into spherical, rather than fibrous structures upon enzymatic dephosphorylation. When increasing the concentration of the fiber-forming fuel, the speed of the conjugates increases compared to non-self-assembling substrate, although directionality remains random.