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Long Term Benefit To Amputees From EU Funded Project


People who need artificial limbs to help with their day-to-day living are among those who are likely to benefit from a project funded with the help of €1.974 million (euros) from the Information Society Technologies area of the EUs Framework Programme.

The MOL SWITCH project set out to build a single-molecule DNA sequencing device and a MOLecular magnetic SWITCH that links the biological and silicon worlds. This nano-switch combines a biological motor and a moving magnetic bead that will help in the development of biosensors, ‘new generation’ prosthetics and provide a means to move artificial limbs by changing the mechanism of interfacing humans and computers.

“The Mol Switch Project is one of the most successful research projects I have been involved with”, says project co-ordinator Keith Firman, from the University of Portsmouth. “Our original aim was to produce a device that could link the biological world and the silicon world through the use of a biological molecular motor. As such it was always an ambitious project and that is why we sought funding from the EU. The concept was based on the idea of a simple molecular dynamo - the molecular motor would move a magnetic bead, attached to DNA, past a sensor, which would ’switch’ a sensor producing electrons that could switch a silicon device such as a computer. The potential use of such a device might be to activate artificial limbs from existing muscle of an amputee, to fly aircraft under high G-force, or as a generic biosensor - the uses are wide varying.

”We have already shown that we can use the motor to move the magnetic bead, that the movement is highly processive (in terms of how much DNA is moved in one go by the enzyme, before it releases and attaches again to move the DNA again - as required for such a device) and that we can also self-assemble the motor on a surface - allowing us to produce the device on a chip, over and over again (as required). However, we have also shown that this motor could be used in a wide range of devices (as a nanoactuator), from a biosensor through to a single-molecule, DNA sequencing device. The potential for such a nanoactuator is a cheap, biodegradable motor that can be used across a wide range of biochips to enable controlled movement of materials.”

The MOL SWITCH project brings together six partners from the UK, France, the Netherlands, Italy and the Czech Republic and is funded as part of the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Scheme within IST. This is designed to promote research that is of a long-term nature or involves particularly high risks, compensated by the potential of a significant societal or industrial impact. “This project is a perfect example of what FET was set up to do”, says Peter Walters, FP6UK National Contact Point for IST. “Its success will have a significant impact in a number of areas but especially for the hundreds of people who require artificial limbs to simply go about their daily lives.

“The current Framework Programme (FP6) runs until 2006 and organisations wanting free information on how to access some of the €19bn available should log on to or call central telephone support on 0870 600 6080.”

Dave Sanders | alfa
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