Biological systems depend on membrane receptors to communicate, while technology relies on electric fields and currents to transmit data—but scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have created a transistor modelled on living cells that it might allow electronic devices to be hooked directly to the nervous system. The transistor consists of two metal electrodes connected by a carbon nanotube, which acts as a semiconductor. The nanotube is layered with both an insulating polymer and a lipid bi-layer that mimics the structure around cell membranes, and the transistor is then powered by adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—the energy currency of living cells. When exposed to ATP, a protein in the lipid bi-layer acts as an ion pump, shuttling sodium and potassium ions across the membrane—so when both a voltage and an ATP solution (including the ions) are applied to the device, a current flows through the electrodes. The transistor is the first example of an integrated bioelectric system; a hybrid, half-man half-machine. The technology could be used to construct seamless bioelectronic interfaces, and even help human consciousness merge with technology—imagine being mentally linked to your laptop!

Advertisements