A Gonorrhea-Based Molecular Machine

Gonorrhea, a bacteria that's transmitted via sexual intercourse and causes painful swelling, may turn out to be the perfect molecular machine. A group of researchers at Columbia University have announced findings proving that the bacteria can use its pili, long filaments that act like limbs, to pull with a force equivalent to 100,000 times its weight, and hold it for hours. Here you can see a video of a gonorrhea bacterium pulling on tiny, flexible columns around it (the pili, which you can't see, can stretch up to ten times the length of the bacterium, and you can see several columns moving rather far away from the bacteria). I've added some music by Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Dealer Incentives that might express what the bacteria is secretly thinking.

This superstrength could make the bacteria the perfect ingredient in nanotech devices that have to exert strong pulls on objects around them. Many scientists are already repurposing viruses and bacteria for use in nanotech machines, and now bacteria's mega-power may make it the killer app.


According to New Scientist:

Scientists knew that Neisseria gonorhoeae bacteria use "type four" pili to crawl along a surface and to attach to cells and infect them.

What they didn't know was that these bacteria can bundle pili together to exert long, strong pulls. Michael Sheetz and colleagues at Columbia University in New York put the bacteria in a field of tiny gel "pillars" and measured the amount the bacteria could bend them as a way of measuring the force of their pull.

They mostly saw a lot of short grabs. But one pull in a hundred started out at the same strength as these short pulls, then increased in increments about equal to the force of the original pull, as if the bacteria were calling in more individual pili to help out the first.

This eventually resulted in a pull that was up to ten times stronger than the initial short grab, and it could last for several hours.

Can't wait for my first gonorrhea-operated molecular machine.

Sexually-transmitted bug is the strongest organism [New Scientist]



AP-Atlanta-4/21/2024: A recent catastrophic disaster in Beijing today has caused an unprecedented outbreak of gonorrhea, infecting over 1.2 billion over the course of six days. When asked for comment regarding the cause of the outbreak, the spokesperson for a popular electronics company (whose R&D facility appears to be ground zero of the disaster) appeared on the verge of collapse before blurting wildly: "For God's sake, don't let the batteries run out, they'll escape!!" before being escorted from the press conference by his colleagues. The electronics company, forcing reporters to sign non-disclosure agreements, has wished to remain anonymous. They wish to emphasize, however, that many of their competitors have been experimenting with similar "non-volatile" storage mediums involving nano-technology.

Not the grey goo disaster I had in mind...