Building protocells from inorganic nanoparticles

May 10, 2013
Building protocells from inorganic nanoparticles

(Phys.org) —Researchers at the University of Bristol have led a new enquiry into how extremely small particles of silica (sand) can be used to design and construct artificial protocells in the laboratory. The work is described in an article published in Nature Chemistry.

Cells are the basic unit of life and are separated from the outside world by a thin organic membrane. A major function of this membrane is to allow certain molecules to enter or leave the cell whilst other molecules are blocked from the . This allows metabolic processes to take place efficiently and selectively. Controlling membrane permeability is therefore a key challenge when building in the form of enclosed chemical systems, particularly so when the membrane is constructed from simple inorganic components.

Professor Stephen Mann and Dr Mei Li in the School of Chemistry have now addressed this problem by attaching a thin to the external surface of an artificial inorganic protocell built from silica nanoparticles.

When the polymer layer is absent, small molecules readily leach out of or permeate into the inorganic , which render them ineffective for controlling in water. But when the polymer is attached to the silica nanoparticles, changes in pH can be used to regulate the charge on the membrane. As a consequence, small molecules with the same charge as the membrane are prevented from entering or leaving the protocell interior. In this way, the researchers show that an enzyme reaction inside the inorganic protocells can be switched on or off by controlling the membrane permeability.

Professor Stephen Mann said: "This work could open up in synthetic protocell research based on methods of non-biological self-organization. This approach could provide an important counterpart to more mainstream methods of synthetic biology. For example, compared with bioengineered cells, the artificial structures are extremely primitive and unable to evolve, but these attributes might make them particularly safe as materials for delivering drugs and genes, sequestering toxic agents, or sensing important metabolites."

Explore further: Thinnest nanofiltration membrane to date

More information: Li, M. et al. Electrostatically gated membrane permeability in inorganic protocells, Nature Chemistry.

Related Stories

Thinnest nanofiltration membrane to date

July 7, 2011

A recent collaboration between researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago with the Center for Nanoscale Material's Electronic & Magnetic Materials & Devices Group at the Argonne National ...

Researchers decipher the mecanism of membrane fission

October 26, 2012

A cell is composed of a nucleus which encloses its genetic information and the cytoplasm which is itself confined by an external membrane separating the cell from the outside world. The impermeability of the membrane and ...

Pathway for membrane building blocks

January 30, 2013

Biomembranes consist of a mosaic of individual, densely packed lipid molecules. These molecules are formed inside the cells. But how do these building blocks move to the correct part of the membrane? Researchers from Technische ...

Team identifies proton pathway in photosynthesis

April 22, 2013

(Phys.org) —A Purdue University-led team has revealed the proton transfer pathway responsible for a majority of energy storage in photosynthesis. Through photosynthesis, plants, algae and bacteria convert sunlight, carbon ...

Recommended for you

New method developed for producing some metals

August 25, 2016

The MIT researchers were trying to develop a new battery, but it didn't work out that way. Instead, thanks to an unexpected finding in their lab tests, what they discovered was a whole new way of producing the metal antimony—and ...

Force triggers gene expression by stretching chromatin

August 26, 2016

How genes in our DNA are expressed into traits within a cell is a complicated mystery with many players, the main suspects being chemical. However, a new study by University of Illinois researchers and collaborators in China ...

Isolation of Fe(IV) decamethylferrocene salts

August 29, 2016

(Phys.org)—Ferrocene is the model compound that students often learn when they are introduced to organometallic chemistry. It has an iron center that is coordinated to the π electrons in two cyclopentadienyl rings. (C5H5- ...

New electrical energy storage material shows its power

August 24, 2016

A powerful new material developed by Northwestern University chemist William Dichtel and his research team could one day speed up the charging process of electric cars and help increase their driving range.

0 comments

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.