DNA double helix, a tiny electromotor

Christopher Maffeo, Lauren Quednau, James Wilson, Aleksei Aksimentiev

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Flowing fluid past chiral objects has been used for centuries to power rotary motion in man-made machines. By contrast, rotary motion in nanoscale biological or chemical systems is produced by biasing Brownian motion through cyclic chemical reactions. Here we show that a chiral biological molecule, a DNA or RNA duplex rotates unidirectionally at billions of revolutions per minute when an electric field is applied along the duplex, with the rotation direction being determined by the chirality of the duplex. The rotation is found to be powered by the drag force of the electro-osmotic flow, realizing the operating principle of a macroscopic turbine at the nanoscale. The resulting torques are sufficient to power rotation of nanoscale beads and rods, offering an engineering principle for constructing nanoscale systems powered by electric field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)238-242
Number of pages5
JournalNature Nanotechnology
Issue number3
Early online dateDec 23 2022
StatePublished - Mar 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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