With the increasing understanding of molecular systems it is now possible to build materials and new systems with nano-scale precision through the control of the structure of matter at the atomic and molecular level. Since the forces that dominate the macroscopic world have either less relevance or different consequences at the nano-level, we must employ different paradigms when conceiving molecular-scale machines that will build, in turn, new types of materials and machines, etc. In this respect biological systems are the best proof of concept that this kind of technology already exists.
Multicomponent systems such as ribosomes can be considered as molecular-scale machines that read RNA, decode the information, generate proteins and finally assist in the folding process to ensure the generation of a correct three-dimensional configuration. This newly created entity can carry out structural functions, catalytic activities in chemical processes, and even form a constituent part of further ribosomes for the construction of new molecular machines. Inspired by biological systems, researchers are beginning to mimic nature in the design of molecules and supramolecular systems but also in the modification of nature's own factories.
The interdisciplinary approach of scientists, who combine knowledge from the natural sciences, engineering and informatics in the design and synthesis of molecules, makes possible the exploration of the limits of miniaturization, operation and efficiency for both natural and artificial machines. The aim is to be able to routinely design molecules or systems with desired physicochemical or physiological properties.
For example, the manipulation and control of molecules on surfaces to bring about the functionalization of the surface or of the molecules themselves is important for a wide variety of applications, e.g., the engineering of synthetic biological systems, diagnostics and delivery devices. The realization of these abilities rests not only upon the availability of synthetic expertise but also on the many essential methods of imaging, lithography and computation, which allow us to begin both the assembly and control of molecules, together. However, the difficulties associated with being able to simultaneously understand and control assembly, recognition, transport and motion at the molecular and systems levels need to be addressed.
This Symposium brought together experts from different disciplines to discuss, from their own points of view, the contemporary state and future perspectives including the following aspects of molecular engineering and control, i.e. molecular control of surfaces, manipulation of metabolic pathways and engineering of proteins and nucleotides, self-organization and molecular self-assembly, imaging, diagnostics and sensors, and artificial (biological) systems.
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