Cornell University scientists have reached one step closer to copying the biological engine that powers a sperm's tail, in order to use it in nano-sized devices.
The tiny biological machine resembles a car engine, which is propelled by fuel.
Composed of 10 carefully arranged enzymes, this machine uses natural sugars to produce a high-energy molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
Scientists believe that ATP, which energizes a sperm's tail, may also be used to power nano-robots that can perform various activities, ranging from the activation of drug-delivery pumps to the manufacturing of missing enzymes necessary for healthy bodily functions.
"We're taking what sperm have already figured out how to do and using it for a nanotechnology application," Discovery News quoted Alex Travis, assistant professor of reproductive biology at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, as saying.
The researcher changed a part of the enzyme that enables it to stick to the rigid, fibrous structure inside a sperm tail, so that it would attach to nickel ions on a manufactured chip.
Travis has revealed that so far, his team has attached three of the 10 enzymes to the chip. He says that upon attachment, these enzymes perform their normal function.
The researcher says if he and his colleagues could get all the 10 enzymes to work in sequence, they would have their biological engine that will use blood glucose naturally present in the body as fuel.
Once applied on a working device, the enzymes will form ATP from the glucose, which in turn will power mechanical functions or initiate chemical reactions for therapeutic reasons.
"I think what's really interesting is that it appears to work," said Regina Turner, assistant professor of large animal production at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
However, this is possible only if all the enzymes work together.
"He will need to show that he can do this with the entire pathway," said Turner.