As if we were studying the motor of a car, to understand the mechanism of operation of a biological molecular motor we should answer questions like: What moves? Why? What limits performance? What is the amount of force generated? What happen if I pull this?
To answer these questions we are using a single molecule manipulation technique called Optical Tweezers. This novel technique provides previously unobtainable data on fundamental biochemical processes that are essential for all forms of life:
• The possibility to isolate a single protein and follow its activity in real time allow us to avoid ensemble averaging and capture transient intermediates and heterogeneous behavior characteristic of the protein operation at the nanoscale.
• On the other hand, we can measure the mechanical forces developed during the protein motor operation and apply controlled forces of a few picoNewtons to it. Access to the mechanical coordinate of the reaction is revealing the mechanisms used by these nanomachines to couple energy to motion.
In our lab we combine the optical tweezers technique with molecular biology, chemical synthesis and statistical physics approaches to tackle from a completely new perspective the study of the operational dynamics of molecular motors.