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Synthetic motors that consume chemical energy to produce mechanical work offer potential applications in many fields that span from computing to drug delivery and diagnostics. Among the various synthetic motors studied thus far, DNA-based machines offer the greatest programmability and have shown the ability to translocate micrometer-distances in an autonomous manner. DNA motors move by employing a burnt-bridge Brownian ratchet mechanism, where the DNA "legs" hybridize and then destroy complementary nucleic acids immobilized on a surface. We have previously shown that highly multivalent DNA motors that roll offer improved performance compared to bipedal walkers. Here, we use DNA-gold nanoparticle conjugates to investigate and enhance DNA nanomotor performance. Specifically, we tune structural parameters such as DNA leg density, leg span, and nanoparticle anisotropy as well as buffer conditions to enhance motor performance. Both modeling and experiments demonstrate that increasing DNA leg density boosts the speed and processivity of motors, whereas DNA leg span increases processivity and directionality. By taking advantage of label-free imaging of nanomotors, we also uncover Lévy-type motion where motors exhibit bursts of translocation that are punctuated with transient stalling. Dimerized particles also demonstrate more ballistic trajectories confirming a rolling mechanism. Our work shows the fundamental properties that control DNA motor performance and demonstrates optimized motors that can travel multiple micrometers within minutes with speeds of up to 50 nm/s. The performance of these nanoscale motors approaches that of motor proteins that travel at speeds of 100-1000 nm/s, and hence this work can be important in developing protocellular systems as well next generation sensors and diagnostics.

Original publication




Journal article


ACS Nano

Publication Date



burnt bridge Brownian ratchet, dynamic DNA nanotechnology, gold nanoparticle, spherical nucleic acids, synthetic DNA motors