Nano-forests to reveal secrets of cells

September 2, 2014
3 dimensional confocal fluorescence microscopy images of lipid membranes (red dye) supported by a nanowire forest. Credit: Aleksandra Dabkowska

Vertical nanowires could be used for detailed studies of what happens on the surface of cells. The findings are important for pharmaceuticals research, among other applications. A group of researchers from Lund University in Sweden have managed to make artificial cell membranes form across a large number of vertical nanowires, known as a 'nano-forest'.

All communication between the interior of a cell and its surroundings takes place through the . The membrane is a surface layer that holds the cell together and that largely comprises lipids, built of . Inside the cell there are also various types of membrane, all with their own specific role.

Studies of cell membranes using nanotechnology have up to now mainly involved studying artificial membranes on flat surfaces, but because many membranes in the body have a curved shape, a different type of nano-surface is needed. In a new scientific study, researchers from Lund University have used vertical nanowires to create more varied surfaces on which artificial membranes can form. The Lund researchers have built an entire forest of upright nanowires on a one millimetre squared surface, on which they have succeeded in forming artificial membranes that are curved in the same way as many natural cell membranes.

"Our research demonstrates that artificial membranes can follow the curved surface formed by the nanowires, which creates unique opportunities to study membranes in a curved state", said Aleksandra Dabkowska from the Department of Chemistry at Lund University.

The nanowires also act as fine feelers that can measure how the membrane works. For instance, the vertical nanowires can be used to study different proteins that are active in the body's cell membranes. Because of their barrier function on the surface of the cell, these proteins are the target of a range of different drugs. The nano-forest could therefore be of great importance for pharmaceutical research, as well as for basic cell research, partly because the nano-surfaces are very precisely controlled as regards the length, thickness and spacing of the nanowires, and partly because the nano-forest multiplies the total study compared with a flat nano-landscape.

Explore further: Membranes contain beautiful patterns—but their function is a mystery

More information: Fluid and Highly Curved Model Membranes on Vertical Nanowire Arrays, Nano Lett., 2014, 14 (8), pp 4286–4292. DOI: 10.1021/nl500926y

Related Stories

Direct 'writing' of artificial cell membranes on graphene

October 10, 2013

Graphene emerges as a versatile new surface to assemble model cell membranes mimicking those in the human body, with potential for applications in sensors for understanding biological processes, disease detection and drug ...

Microprinting leads to low-cost artificial cells

December 16, 2013

(Phys.org) —Easily manufactured, low-cost artificial cells manufactured using microprinting may one day serve as drug and gene delivery devices and in biomaterials, biotechnology and biosensing applications, according to ...

Recommended for you

Electrical circuit made of gel can repair itself

August 25, 2015

(Phys.org)—Scientists have fabricated a flexible electrical circuit that, when cut into two pieces, can repair itself and fully restore its original conductivity. The circuit is made of a new gel that possesses a combination ...

Biological tools create nerve-like polymer network

August 24, 2015

Using a succession of biological mechanisms, Sandia National Laboratories researchers have created linkages of polymer nanotubes that resemble the structure of a nerve, with many out-thrust filaments poised to gather or send ...

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.