Hinge benefits: ions pour through this synthetic chloride channel
Chemists copy from cells to make a tunnel for salt
Chemists have finally achieved what every human cell can do. They have designed and built from scratch a gate for electrically charged chlorine atoms to pass through1.
George Gokel and colleagues at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, based their gate on biological proteins that transport chloride ions from one side of our cell membranes to the other. Like these, the synthetic channel can be opened and closed by applying a voltage. How this happens is not clear, even in natural ion channels.
In nature, voltage regulates ion flow to control how salty cells become. If there are more chloride ions on one side of a membrane than the other, the imbalance of electrical charge sets up a voltage across the membrane that can start or stop ions passing.
Cells use ion channels to produce electrical signals such as nerve impulses and the muscle movements that produce the heart beat. Many channels transport only one kind of ion, sodium, say, or chloride.
Similarly, the artificial channels transport chloride ions much more effectively than other ions, such as potassium or sulphate. Gokel’s group tested them in artificial particles called liposomes, which are hollow shells with walls like real cell membranes.
Several different types of protein-based chloride channel in the human body serve functions ranging from salt uptake to muscle contraction. Genetic mutations that make channels faulty are linked to heritable diseases such as cystic fibrosis and some muscle and kidney complaints.
Artificial chloride channels might one day serve as drugs against such diseases, but that’s a distant goal. At the moment, Gokel and his colleagues are simply trying to build simple molecules that can do the same job as real ion channels. Another motivation is that natural and synthetic ion transporters can act as antibiotics.
Cell membranes have an oily inside edge that repels water, so water-soluble substances such as ions need help getting across. Protein ion channels are embedded in a membrane, creating a kind of tunnel that lets ions through.
The new synthetic chloride channel tries to copy this. The molecule has a fatty, oil-soluble tail and a protein-like, ion-transporting head. The fatty tail anchors it in the membrane. The head contains a string of seven amino acids, like those that make up natural chloride channels. In particular, an amino acid known as proline is in the middle of the sequence.
Gokel’s team think that the proline is the hinge-like apex of an arch-shaped structure, and that two prolines stick together in the membrane to form a pore just wide enough for a chloride ion to pass through.
PHILIP BALL | © Nature News Service
Cells migrate collectively by intermittent bursts of activity
30.09.2016 | Aalto University
The structure of the BinAB toxin revealed: one small step for Man, a major problem for mosquitoes!
30.09.2016 | CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange)
Heavy construction machinery is the focus of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s latest advance in additive manufacturing research. With industry partners and university students, ORNL researchers are designing and producing the world’s first 3D printed excavator, a prototype that will leverage large-scale AM technologies and explore the feasibility of printing with metal alloys.
Increasing the size and speed of metal-based 3D printing techniques, using low-cost alloys like steel and aluminum, could create new industrial applications...
Friction stir welding is a still-young and thus often unfamiliar pressure welding process for joining flat components and semi-finished components made of light metals.
Scientists at the University of Stuttgart have now developed two new process variants that will considerably expand the areas of application for friction stir welding.
Technologie-Lizenz-Büro (TLB) GmbH supports the University of Stuttgart in patenting and marketing its innovations.
Friction stir welding is a still-young and thus often unfamiliar pressure welding process for joining flat components and semi-finished components made of...
Optical quantum computers can revolutionize computer technology. A team of researchers led by scientists from Münster University and KIT now succeeded in putting a quantum optical experimental set-up onto a chip. In doing so, they have met one of the requirements for making it possible to use photonic circuits for optical quantum computers.
Optical quantum computers are what people are pinning their hopes on for tomorrow’s computer technology – whether for tap-proof data encryption, ultrafast...
The Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP has been developing various applications for OLED microdisplays based on organic semiconductors. By integrating the capabilities of an image sensor directly into the microdisplay, eye movements can be recorded by the smart glasses and utilized for guidance and control functions, as one example. The new design will be debuted at Augmented World Expo Europe (AWE) in Berlin at Booth B25, October 18th – 19th.
“Augmented-reality” and “wearables” have become terms we encounter almost daily. Both can make daily life a little simpler and provide valuable assistance for...
With the help of artificial intelligence, chemists from the University of Basel in Switzerland have computed the characteristics of about two million crystals made up of four chemical elements. The researchers were able to identify 90 previously unknown thermodynamically stable crystals that can be regarded as new materials. They report on their findings in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.
Elpasolite is a glassy, transparent, shiny and soft mineral with a cubic crystal structure. First discovered in El Paso County (Colorado, USA), it can also be...
30.09.2016 | Event News
29.09.2016 | Event News
28.09.2016 | Event News
30.09.2016 | Materials Sciences
30.09.2016 | Earth Sciences
30.09.2016 | Life Sciences