Date: Thu Nov 23 2000 - 23:15:46 MST

The first microscopic "helicopters", which could one day carry out medical
tasks inside the body, have been built and test-driven by scientists.
The devices, no bigger than a virus particle, could eventually move around
the human body, ministering to its needs or dispensing drugs.

The metal rotors of the tiny machines are powered by the body's natural fuel,
a chemical called ATP.

When the biomotors were tested in the laboratory, they were able to drive the
helicopter's propellers using the fuel of the body for up to two-and-a-half

With this demonstration, we believe we are defining a whole new technology
Carlo Montemagno
This is an important first step towards producing miniature machines capable
of functioning inside the living cell.

The tiny helicopters consist of three parts - metal propellers and a
biological component attached to a metal post.

'Physiology of life'

When the three components are mixed together, the tiny machines

The biological material converts the body's biochemical fuel, ATP, into
energy. This is used to turn the propellers at a rate of eight rotations per

A team at Cornell University, Ithaca, US, carried out the work.

Carlo Montemagno who led the team said: "With this demonstration, we believe
we are defining a whole new technology.

"We have shown that hybrid nanodevices can be assembled, maintained and
repaired using the physiology of life."

This is only a first step as the technology is still very inefficient. Only
five of the first 400 biomotors worked. And scientists will have to show that
the machines can function inside the living cell, something that may take
many years to achieve.

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