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Designing artificial cells to harness the biological ion gradient



Jian Xu, David A. LaVan


Cell membranes contain numerous natural nanoscale conductors, i.e. ion channels and ion pumps1-4, that work in concert to form transmembrane or transcellular ion gradients that can be triggered to release an action potential (AP)1, 5. Can artificial cells effectively utilize ion transport in a way that matches the performance of natural cells? This work reports on the first effort to numerically design an artificial cell starting from a defined objective. We created a model of AP formation in a polarized cell to track the conversion of ion concentration gradients into APs and extract detailed channel parameters. Using these parameters, we then designed an artificial cell based on a selection of nanoconductors. The resulting optimally designed cell (ODC) has similar behaviour to a natural electrocyte, but higher power output density and greater energy conversion efficiency. Methods for producing ODCs are suggested; synthetic ODCs are possible nanoconductor-based power supplies for medical implants.
Nature Nanotechnology


electrocyte, ion channel, artificial cell, nanoconductor, biological energy conversion, biomimetic


Xu, J. and LaVan, D. (2008), Designing artificial cells to harness the biological ion gradient, Nature Nanotechnology, [online], (Accessed June 12, 2024)


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Created November 22, 2008, Updated October 12, 2021