A new study published in the journal Nature Communications details how engineers from Columbia University have succeeded at harvesting the molecules of living systems to create an electronic chip from adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which powers life.
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The Columbia Engineering scientists were able to do this after they combined normal “solid-state complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) integrated circuit with an artificial lipid bilayer membrane composed of ATP-powered ion pumps.”
This technique enabled the researchers to develop systems made up of biological and solid-state components.
Research was led by Ken Shepard, professor of Electrical Engineering and professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia Engineering.
"In combining a biological electronic device with CMOS, we will be able to create new systems not possible with either technology alone," Shepard said.
"We are excited at the prospect of expanding the palette of active devices that will have new functions, such as harvesting energy from ATP, as was done here, or recognizing specific molecules, giving chips the potential to taste and smell,” he added. “This was quite a unique new direction for us and it has great potential to give solid-state systems new capabilities with biological components."
Shepard revealed that CMOS solid-state electronics cannot readily duplicate some functions that only natural systems can perform, and this includes the ability to taste or smell things as well as the ability to carry out biochemical energy functions.
Using ion channels, lipid membranes, and pumps as “electronic versions of biological transistors,” living systems can smell or taste or perform biochemical functions – living systems functions more or less like electronic systems by using charge in place of ions to transmit energy and information via ion channels within cell membranes.
In describing the process for creating the chips using biological materials, Shepard disclosed that this team developed a macroscale version of the system at a scale of many millimeters to be certain that the system would work. "Our results provide new insight into a generalized circuit model, enabling us to determine the conditions to maximize the efficiency of harnessing chemical energy through the action of these ion pumps. We will now be looking at how to scale the system down," he said.
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Harnessing living energy form living systems is not really new since some other scientists had succeeded at it previously, but this is the first time that anyone would be achieving this at the molecular level – just by extracting the needed functions and then integrating it into electronic chips.