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Science Odds & Ends 4

20 Jun

#4. The World’s Tiniest Motor  by Jonathan Sarfati

Man-made motors are complex designs, because they need many parts working together to function. Although miniaturised motors would be very useful, e.g. for keeping our arteries clear and our blood clean, the number of parts makes it difficult to make them below a certain size. But ingenious scientists are making them smaller all the time.

However the design in living organisms has far exceeded our most painstaking efforts. Bacteria propel themselves using flagella, filaments propelled by a true rotary motor. This motor is only the size of a virus, thus far smaller than anything man-made. Yet it can rotate at over 1000 times per second.

But even this impressively tiny motor is not the tiniest in God’s creation. Living cells have many molecules that are mini-machines and chemical factories enzymes. One enzyme has been shown to spin ‘like a motor’ to produce ATP, a chemical which is the ‘energy currency’ of life. The enzyme, which has nine protein components, is so tiny that 100,000 million million would fill the volume of a pinhead. This motor produces an immense torque (turning force) for its size it rotates a strand of another protein 100 times its own length. Also, when driving a heavy load, it probably changes to a lower gear, as any well-designed motor should.

One of the Nature articles was appropriately entitled ‘Real Engines of Creation’. Unfortunately, despite the evidence for exquisite design, many scientists (including the editor of Nature) still have a blind faith that mutations and natural selection could build such machines.

The famous British evolutionist (and communist) J.B.S. Haldane claimed in 1949 that evolution could never produce ‘various mechanisms, such as the wheel and magnet, which would be useless till fairly perfect.’ Therefore such machines in organisms would, in his opinion, prove evolution false. These molecular motors have indeed fulfilled one of Haldane’s criteria. Also, turtles which use magnetic sensors for navigation fulfill Haldane’s other criterion . I wonder whether Haldane would have had a change of heart if he had been alive to see these discoveries …

Sources

Nature 386(6622):ix, 217-219, 299-302, March 20, 1997

Science News 151(12):173, March 22, 1997.

Technical Notes:

‘Invasion of the micromachines’, New Scientist 150(2036):28-33, 29 June 1996.

For a good description, see M. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, The Free Press, NY, 1996, pp. 69-73, available from Answers in Genesis ministries group.

This motor measures about 40 nm across and 60 nm high ( 1 nm = 10-9 m).

The enzyme is F1-ATPase, a subunit of a larger enzyme, ATP synthase.

ATP stands for adenosine triphosphate. It is a high energy compound, and releases this energy by losing a phosphate group and leaving ADP, adenosine diphosphate.

The F1-ATPase motor is a flattened sphere about 10 nm across by 8 nm high.

The filament is a protein called actin.

Is Evolution a Myth? A Debate between D. Dewar and L.M. Davies vs. J.B.S. Haldane, Watts & Co. Ltd / Paternoster Press, London, 1949, p. 90.

Addendum: Nobel Prize

The discoverers of this remarkable enzyme/motor have won a half share of the 1997 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. They are Paul Boyer of the University of California at Los Angeles and John Walker of the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. The other half of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry was won by Jens Skou of the University of Aarhus in Denmark. Forty years ago, he was the first to identify an enzyme that moves substances through cell membranes (in this case, sodium and potassium ions). This is a key function of all cells.

Source: D. Concar, ‘Essential enzymes have earned their discoverers a Nobel prize’, New Scientist 156(2105):14, 25 October 1997.
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