Pigment discovery makes biological chips possible

Using melanin in semiconductors could open up the possibility of bioelectronics that are able to connect directly with human bodies.

Melanin is the pigment that occurs naturally in the human body, and a team of scientists at the University of Queensland believes its properties could bridge the gap between conventional electronics and our own biological systems.

Labs across the world are trying to work out how to create electronics which can interface with human tissue. The effects of this could revolutionise medicine, and would certainly appeal to anyone with even a passing interest in science fiction.

The team says that organic semiconductors – a relatively new method of production using molecules such as carbon and hydrogen – could hold the key.

Melanin’s use of electrons, fundamental in electronics , and ions, is necessary for biological system currents. Essentially, melanin can act as a translator between the two currents, bridging the gap to allow for an connection between electronics and biology.

By discovering these properties, researchers believe that a bridging device could be made and are working on an ion-based device.

The advantages of this are two-fold. Aside from the obvious health benefits such as repairing signal carrying pathways in tissues such as the brain, the researchers think the discovery would lead to cheaper and safer semiconductors through the use of organic materials.