A new material replicates the exceptional strength, toughness and versatility of one of nature's more extraordinary substances -- insect cuticle -- and could replace plastics in consumer products or medical devices. (Credit: Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Harvard University)
Bionanoscience is the study of life and biology at the nanoscale level. From the production of proteins and cell division to photosynthesis and metabolism, the basic processes life all involve interactions at the cellular and molecular level. In many cases, at the nanoscale level, these interactions are more than just one chemical bonding with another. Instead, they are also mechanical, as when proteins migrate to the center of a cell and begin to constrict until they have divided the cell in half. To split open a strand of DNA, other proteins will “walk” down the length of the molecule, breaking chemical bonds until they come to a molecular roadblock that stops the process. At the nanoscale level, molecules may also interact directly with different types of energy. The microbe Sporomusaovata, for example, absorbs electrons, while chlorophyll uses sunlight to produce electrons that it then transports to other parts of the plant for photosynthesis. A deeper understanding of how life functions at the nanoscale is enabling researchers to create new materials, machines and substances that can be to treat disease or protect the environment.
Nanoscience examines some of nature’s most remarkable engineering and nowhere is this engineering more exquisite than in the cell, where thousands of proteins work as tiny motors to power the processes of life.
The advance of engineering at extremely small scales has led to marvels of manufacturing, producing tiny transistors and circuits so close-packed that palm-sized devices now have the computing power and memory once held by room-sized machines.