Toward giving artificial cells the ability for sustained movement (w/Video)

April 29, 2009
Scientists are reporting development of “self-propelled” oil droplets that run on chemical “fuel.” The development could serve as a blueprint for designing similar locomotion systems in artificial cells. Credit: The American Chemical Society

Scientists in Japan are reporting an advance toward giving artificial cells another hallmark of life -- the ability to tap an energy source and use it to undergo sustained movement. Their study, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, describes the first “self-propelled” oil droplets (used as a model for research on artificial cells) that can run on a chemical “fuel.”

Tadashi Sugawara and Taro Toyota and other colleagues note in the new study that scientists have tried for years to find a method for producing oil droplets that undergo controlled movement from one point to another. Despite identifying several promising approaches, researchers have never found an ideal method that they can easily control.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Video footage of a self-propelled oil droplet in motion.

The new study describes development of oil droplets equipped with chemical “engines” -- highly reactive catalysts -- that provide self-propelled motion in the presence of a chemical “fuel.” This fuel consists of special substances that react in the presence of the . When the researchers placed droplets in water containing the fuel, the droplets moved in a controlled fashion toward areas with the highest concentration of fuel.

The researchers also say that when another droplet comes close the newcomer it is trapped by the trail of wastes released by the first droplet. Then the two move together in a “communicative” manner. When the fuel was exhausted, the droplets slowed down and stopped. The study serves as a long-awaited blueprint for designing similar locomotion systems in , the scientists say.

More information: , “Self-Propelled Oil Droplets Consuming “” Surfactant”

Provided by American Chemical Society (news : web)

Explore further: Emulsion with a round-trip ticket

Related Stories

Emulsion with a round-trip ticket

June 14, 2007

Oil and water are not miscible. However, it is possible to combine both into an emulsion in which they act as a unit—for example, in creams, body lotion, milk, or mayonnaise. In these substances, one of the two liquids ...

Droplets that Roll Uphill

September 24, 2007

A recent experiment conducted by physicists at University of Bristol in the United Kingdom has shown that liquid drops can defy gravity. Droplets of liquid on an inclined plate that is shaken up and down can travel uphill ...

Waste coffee grounds offer new source of biodiesel fuel

December 10, 2008

Researchers in Nevada are reporting that waste coffee grounds can provide a cheap, abundant, and environmentally friendly source of biodiesel fuel for powering cars and trucks. Their study has been published online in the ...

Recommended for you

New polymer creates safer fuels

October 1, 2015

Before embarking on a transcontinental journey, jet airplanes fill up with tens of thousands of gallons of fuel. In the event of a crash, such large quantities of fuel increase the severity of an explosion upon impact. Researchers ...

Researchers print inside gels to create unique shapes

September 30, 2015

(—A team of researchers at the University of Florida has taken the technique of printing objects inside of a gel a step further by using a highly shear-rate sensitive gel. In their paper published in the journal ...

How a molecular motor untangles protein

October 1, 2015

A marvelous molecular motor that untangles protein in bacteria may sound interesting, yet perhaps not so important. Until you consider the hallmarks of several neurodegenerative diseases—Huntington's disease has tangled ...

Anti-aging treatment for smart windows

October 1, 2015

Electrochromic windows, so-called 'smart windows', share a well-known problem with rechargeable batteries – their limited lifespan. Researchers at Uppsala University have now worked out an entirely new way to rejuvenate ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.