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Honolulu, Hawaii, United States, 2006/11/07 - Networks of nanotubes and vesicles serve as a platform to build nanofluidic devices operating with single molecules and particles and offer new opportunities to study chemistry in confined biomimetic compartments.
Back in 2001, Swedish researchers developed techniques for creating complex two- and three-dimensional networks of nanotubes and µm-sized containers from liquid crystalline lipid bilayer materials based on the propensity in liposomes to undergo complex shape-transitions under mechanical excitations. The membrane composition and container contents can be controlled allowing chemical programming of networks in studies of enzyme kinetics, reaction-diffusion phenomena, and single-biomolecule detection. Materials contained in the networks can be routed among containers. Thus, networks of nanotubes and vesicles serve as a platform to build nanofluidic devices operating with single molecules and particles and offer new opportunities to study chemistry in confined biomimetic compartments. The networks can furthermore be used to build nanoscale chemical laboratories for applications in analytical devices as well as to construct computational and complex sensor systems that can also be integrated to living cells. In recent work, the researchers have now demonstrated that these nanotube-container networks can be constructed directly from plasma membranes of cultured cells.
Plasma membrane vesicles in itself are not a new concept, and people have done different studies on them regarding composition and functionality, mainly by isolating pinched-off vesicles in a large batch. The new aspect of this recent work done at the Orwar Research Lab is to be able to visualize membrane proteins on one or more single vesicles, and being able to create different network structures by micromanipulation, similar to the liposome networks developed previously.
Nanotube conjugated cells also exist in nature, and evidence has been found that cells can exchange materials through such channels. In the laboratory, though, an important challenge in constructing nanotube-vesicle networks has been to obtain membrane proteins and lipids from natural sources in high yields and with maintained functionality. The most elegant approach would be to form the nanotube-vesicle networks directly from a native cell membrane; which is exactly what the Swedish scientists did.
Specifically, they used the fact that, under certain conditions, cells can form unilamellar protrusions, also known as membrane blebs. Such structures can serve as ideal precursors for nanotube-vesicle network formation as they are compatible with the micromanipulation tools used for synthetic vesicles.
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By Michael Berger, Copyright 2006 Nanowerk LLC