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Synthetic Cells Get Together to Make Electronics


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University of Oxford chemists, working with colleagues at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, have built a network of artificial cells that acts like an electronic device.

Oxford's Hagan Bayley says the team connected multiple artificial "protocells" together to share electrical signals with an eye toward making artificial tissue in which individual synthetic cells work together.

The team used droplets of watery fluid enclosed in an oily membrane, and brought two protocells together. The researchers added pores to the double-thickness boundary membrane that formed around the protocells, using a bacterial toxin that punches holes in the membranes of mammalian cells during an infection. Electrodes were connected to the protocells to supply a current, and the pores facilitated the flow of charged ions. They created a more complicated electronic device for converting alternating current into direct current by connecting four droplets together into a 2x2 square.

"The droplets are made of the same materials as biological life, but they can be connected to electrodes," Bayley says. Virginia Tech's Donald Leo says the approach to networking protocells looks promising at larger scales such as 10,000 or 100,000 droplets.

From New Scientist
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