Letter abstract


Nature Nanotechnology 3, 666 - 670 (2008)
Published online: 21 September 2008 | doi:10.1038/nnano.2008.274

Subject terms: Computational nanotechnology | Molecular machines and motors | Nanosensors and other devices | Structural properties

Designing artificial cells to harness the biological ion concentration gradient

Jian Xu1 & David A. Lavan2


Cell membranes contain numerous nanoscale conductors in the form of ion channels and ion pumps1, 2, 3, 4 that work together to form ion concentration gradients across the membrane to trigger the release of an action potential1, 5. It seems natural to ask if artificial cells can be built to use ion transport as effectively as natural cells. Here we report a mathematical calculation of the conversion of ion concentration gradients into action potentials across different nanoscale conductors in a model electrogenic cell (electrocyte) of an electric eel. Using the parameters extracted from the numerical model, we designed an artificial cell based on an optimized selection of conductors. The resulting cell is similar to the electrocyte but has higher power output density and greater energy conversion efficiency. We suggest methods for producing these artificial cells that could potentially be used to power medical implants and other tiny devices.

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  1. Department of Chemical Engineering, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA
  2. National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, Maryland 20899, USA

Correspondence to: David A. Lavan2 e-mail: david.lavan@nist.gov



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