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Force sensation and mechanical communication is vital to many physiological processes. Beginning to decipher the inner workings of many of the biological actuators (biological nanomotors), mechanotransmitters and nanoscale receivers which convert mechanical stimuli into biochemical signals (mechanotransduction) was made possible by recent advances in nanotechnology. Here we review designs of molecular switches that have evolved in the context of mechanical communication between cells and their environments, whereby cell adhesion sites as well as the fibrous transmission media themselves serve as potent mechano-chemical signal converters. Biological designs enabling mechanical communication will inspire new technologies.