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Artificial Molecular Machines

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ArtMoMa (Artificial Molecular Machines)

Reporting period: 2020-03-01 to 2022-02-28

Although complex biological machineries already exist in nature and are central to key cellular functions (such as replication, ATP (adenosine triphosphate) synthesis, transport, and motion), the recent progress made in the field of artificial molecular machines only represents the initial fundamental stages of what could result from the miniaturisation of machines. It is expected that such machines could be the foundations of nanorobotics. Nanorobotics is an entirely new technology for the synthesis of complex chemicals and active pharmaceutical ingredients; for medical diagnostics to identify pathogens; and for medical treatments to attack cancer cells or to remove plaque in blood vessels - all desperately needed by society. Other promising applications are smart, dynamic materials with unprecedented energy storage properties and energy conversion systems, such as embarked mechanical batteries and actuators in soft-robots.
Before reaching such a societal impact, specific science should be developped and a number of challenges need to be overcome. Those challenges structure our endeavours in the ArtMoMa network:
Challenge 1: Precisely controlling the functional mechanical tasks of molecular machines in environments submitted to Brownian motion in order, for example, to deliver drugs to a particular place in the human body or to design the next generation of nanorobots as catalysts.
Challenge 2: Understanding and controlling the conversion of physical or chemical sources of energy in mechanical work in order to access a new class of systems functioning out of thermodynamic equilibrium, and, for example, becoming capable of transporting against energy gradients (e.g. pumps), or of directing motions in liquids (e.g. swimmers).
Challenge 3: Achieving the integration of large assemblies of molecular machines working in concert in materials in order to amplify their mechanical output on a macro scale and to open up the window for new applications towards smart, active materials such as artificial muscles.
As an overall objective, our network aims to reach new heights in the emerging field of artificial molecular machines through leveraging the capabilities and joint workforce of top-notch research centres and companies in order to further develop EU research and education structures. ArtMoMa consortium has the ambition to train a new generation of visionary researchers capable of conducting high gain, high risk research. We also wish to lift the field of molecular machines into the next application level through the strong involvement of leading companies, and to pave the way for the design of entirely new products and materials.
A number of scientific investigations have been actively pursued within ArtMoMa, and some results have been already obtained, taking into account that the PhD students are only reaching the mid-term of their projects. In a first scientific work package (WP1), complex individual molecular machines are currently under development. They include chemically fueled pumps, transporters, and nanopropellers, as well as molecular machines based on DNA nanotechnologies. So far, a number of synthetic chemistry approaches have been designed and implemented for building these complex structures, and a number of molecular targets have now been reached. In WP2, a series of work are pursued to couple molecular machines with their environment in order to probe how they can deliver their work to their surroundings. This includes molecular machnies working in a confined evironment such as lipid membranes, at surfaces and interfaces, as well as in gels of polymers. Here again, a number of synthetic achievements have been made, setting the stage for analysing a number of new devices and materials. In WP3, advanced functions are targeted for molecular walking and sliding, for energy storage, and for improving commodity plastics. Again, this first half of the project was here succesful as it allowed the synthetic access to the targeted chemical structures, which are now ready for functional characterizations. Regarding the training aspect of ArtMoMa (WP4), our progesses are in line with our initial proposal, but with a clear break in our secondment plans due to the COVID situation. With the impossibility to travel, and with the closure of all the laboratories for long periods, we had to adapt, but we finally set up a strategy which will preserve the quality of the secondment part. On that part, it should be mentionned that the two secondments in the Merck company contributed to the organization of a 2 days workshop online with many participants to exlpore future applications of molecular machines. The discussions led to bilateral collaborations between Merck and some ArtMoMa’s research groups for the obtention of proofs of concepts of industrial potential. In addition, all the other actions planned for this period have been achieved, including PCDP, trainings on transvarsal skills, and meetings. Regarding the communication and dissemination (WP5), we are also currently in line with the original expectations of the project. A website was created and complemented by social media channels, and we edited flyers and newsletters. The first papers were also published, mostly in the forms of reviews and books, as expected for this first part, but also with the first scientific results now produced by the network. The dissemination part includes open sessions to workshops, active participation upon invitation by Nature Publishing Group to the Berlin Science Week, and we are currently preparing an open-access video on molecular machines. The last work package (WP6) on management is also on the right track, despite two unexpected changes of the European Project Managers recruited, which made this task sometimes complicated to handle. But at this moment we are reaching a more stable situation that will hopefully help us to smoothly run the second half of the project. We are happy that, with a so large structure and the COVID situation, we were still able to keep an overall good stability of the network and that we were capable to solve some unexpected defections (1ESR and 1 partner company) by efficient management processes. This leads to a global respect of our commitments to the EU, as discussed extensively during the mid-term check and in this mid term report.
We have achieved a number of important scientific steps in WP1-3, and adapted our initial objectives when requested. Almost all the projects of the ESRs are now at a point where the molecular objects needed for their study have been built, and they are ready to probe their functions. This is an expected timing in this type of sequential projects and it should be noted that the molecular objects constructed in this first half of ArtMoMa are all new by themselves, and they represent already achievements in the production of knowledge beyond the state of the art. Now, we are confident that the 15 individual projects will produce their expected results in the second half of ArtMoMa. In the other WPs, we have fulfilled almost all our commitments in terms of deliverables and milestones and we have established strong partnerships with important companies. Overall, we are confident that ArtMoMa will impact both the field of molecular machines and the career perspectives and employability of our ESRs, therefore stenghtening European innovation capacity.