Department of Materials, ETH Zürich, Wolfgang-Pauli-Strasse 10, 8093 Zürich, Switzerland
Manufacturing at the nanoscale currently relies on two major approaches, molecular assembly strategies and top-down micro- and nanofabrication with inherent shortcomings regarding the complexity of structures that can be achieved. In the macroscopic world, complex objects are assembled sequentially, like cars on assembly lines, to ensure that each part is positioned correctly. Driven by motors, the product is moved from one assembly station to the next. Although many nanoparts can be individually manufactured, their sequential assembly into complex structures is currently nontrivial. In contrast, Nature again does not just rely on spontaneous molecular assembly but evolved complex machineries to synthesize, shuttle, sort and sequentially assemble the building blocks of life. Borrowing from Nature, we are developing insights into how to engineer nanoscale assembly lines based on biological motors. This is motivated by the fact that a large number of specialized motors are used by cells to actively transport molecules and organelles along cytoskeletal filaments to defined locations. Furthermore, we are asking how to utilize some recently discovered unexpected mechanical properties of proteins for nanoscale manufacturing application. In contrast to common expectations that the lifetime of receptor-ligand complexes is reduced if pulled apart by force, some bacterial adhesion complexes strengthen if strained which is the hallmark of catch bonds.