A group of scientists in Chile has created* artificial biomembranes, mimicking those found in living organisms on silicon surfaces, a step toward creating bio-silicon interfaces, where biological “sensor” molecules can be printed onto a cheap silicon chip with integrated electronic circuits.
Described in The Journal of Chemical Physics from AIP Publishing, the artificial membranes have potential applications such as detecting bacterial contaminants in food, toxic pollution in the environment, and dangerous diseases .
The idea is to create a “biosensor that can transmit electrical signals through the membrane,” said María José Retamal, a Ph.D. student at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and first author of the paper.
Lipid membranes separate distinct spaces within cells and define walls between neighboring cells — a functional compartmentalization that serves many physiological processes, protecting genetic material, regulating what comes in and out of cells, and maintaining the function of separate organs.
Synthetic membranes that mimic nature offer the possibility of containing membrane proteins — biological molecules that could be used for detecting toxins, diseases and many other biosensing applications.
More work is needed to standardize the process by which proteins are to be inserted in the membranes, to define the mechanism by which an electrical signal would be transmitted when a protein binds its target, and to calibrate how that signal is detected by the underlying circuitry, Retamal said.
* Retamal and her colleagues created the first artificial membrane without using solvents on a silicon support base. They chose silicon because of its low cost, wide availability and because its “hydrophobicity” (how much it repels water) can be controlled chemically, allowing them to build membranes on top.
Next they evaporated a chemical known as chitosan onto the silicon. Chitosan is derived from chitin, a sugar found in the shells of certain crustaceans, like lobsters or shrimp. Whole bags of the powder can be bought from chemical companies worldwide. They chose this ingredient for its ability to form a moisturizing matrix. It is insoluble in water, but chitosan is porous, so it is capable of retaining water.
Finally they evaporated a phospholipid molecule known as dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine (DPPC) onto the chitosan-covered silicon substrate and showed that it formed a stable “bilayer,” the classic form of a membrane. Spectroscopy showed that these artificial membranes were stable over a wide range of temperatures.
Via Dr. Stefan Gruenwald, Naif Almalki