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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
Created November 23, 2008, Updated February 19, 2017