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Protein Molecule Called World's Tiniest Motor

March 20, 1997|From Times staff and wire reports

Japanese scientists say that by delving inside a cell membrane they have found the world's tiniest natural motor. The protein molecule, called F1-ATPase, rotated with an incredible force, and they were able to videotape the motion.

"We now show that a single molecule of F1-ATPase acts as a rotary motor, the smallest known, by direct observation of its motion," a team at the Tokyo Institute of Technology reported in the March 20 issue of the journal Nature. The central rotor is just one nanometer (one-billionth of a meter) across, turning in a "barrel" 10 nanometers wide. "Transposed into our own dimensions, if cars could drive at equivalent scale speeds, they would break the sound barrier," an accompanying editorial noted.

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