Molecular motors: how to make models that can be used to convey the concept of molecular ratchets and thermal capture
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A wide variety of cellular processes use molecular motors, including processive motors that move along some form of track (e.g., myosin with actin, kinesin or dynein with tubulin) and polymerases that move along a template (e.g., DNA and RNA polymerases, ribosomes). In trying to understand how these molecular motors actually move, many apply their understanding of how man-made motors work: the latter use some form of energy to exert a force or torque on its load. However, quite a different mechanism has been proposed to possibly account for the movement of molecular motors. Rather than hydrolyzing ATP to push or pull their load, they might use their own thermal vibrational energy as well as that of their load and their environment to move the load, capturing those movements that occur along a desired vector or axis and resisting others; ATP hydrolysis is required to make backward movements impossible. This intriguing thermal capture or Brownian ratchet model is relatively more difficult to convey to students. In this report, we describe several teaching aids that are very easily constructed using widely available household materials to convey the concept of a molecular ratchet.
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