Boffins have worked out a way of embedding a nano-sized transistor inside a cell-like membrane and powered it using the cell’s own fuel.
According to the journal ACS Nano Letters, which we get for the spot the Endoplasmic Reticulum competition, the research could lead to new types of man-machine interactions.
They think they are close to a point where embedded devices could relay information about the inner workings of disease-related proteins inside the cell membrane, and eventually lead to new ways to read, and even influence, brain or nerve cells.
Top boffin Aleksandr Noy, a scientist at the University of California, said the gizmo is the closest that things have got to the marriage of biological and electronic structures.
“We can take proteins, real biological machines, and make them part of a working microelectronic circuit,” he said.
The UC scientists began with a simple transistor which was made out of a carbon nanotube. They then coated the carbon nanotube transistor with a lipid bilayer, as you do.
This gave the nano-tube a double wall of oil molecules that cells use to separate their insides from their environment.
Apparently they have not got around to using a real cell membrane yet.
To this basic cellular structure the UC boffins added an ion pump, a biological device that pumps charged atoms of calcium, potassium, and other elements into and out of the cell. Then they added a solution of adenosine tri-phosphate, or ATP, which fuels the ion pump.
The ion pump changes the electrical charge inside the cell, which then changes the electrical charge going through the transistor, which the scientists could measure and monitor.
It is starting to look as if humanity’s future is as a bio-mechanical hybrid.