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Molecular Engineering

Molecular engineering is any means of manufacturing molecules. It may be used to create, on an extremely small scale, most typically one at a time, new molecules which may not exist in nature, or be stable beyond a very narrow range of conditions. Today this is an arduous process, requiring manual manipulation of molecules using such devices as a scanning tunneling microscope. Eventually it is expected to exploit life-like self-replicating 'helper molecules' that are themselves engineered. Thus the field can be seen as a precision form of chemical engineering that includes protein engineering, the creation of protein molecules, a process that occurs naturally in biochemistry, e.g., prion reproduction. However, it provides far more control than genetic modification of an existing genome, which must rely strictly on existing biochemistry to express genes as proteins, and has little power to produce any non-proteins.

Molecular engineering is highly interdisciplinary by nature, encompassing aspects of chemical engineering, materials science, bioengineering, electrical engineering, physics, mechanical engineering, and chemistry. There is also considerable overlap with nanotechnology, in that both are concerned with the behavior of materials on the scale of nanometers or smaller. Given the highly fundamental nature of molecular interactions, there are a plethora of potential application areas, limited perhaps only by one's imagination and the laws of physics. However, some of the early successes of molecular engineering have come in the fields of immunotherapy, synthetic biology, and printable electronics (see molecular engineering applications).

At least three universities offer graduate degrees dedicated to molecular engineering: the University of Chicago, the University of Washington, and Kyoto University. These programs are interdisciplinary institutes with faculty from several research areas.

The academic Journal Molecular Engineering and Systems Biology publishes research from a wide variety of subject areas that demonstrates "a molecular design or optimisation strategy targeting specific systems functionality and performance."


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