Have you ever wondered how cell biology works? How new drugs are developed? How our noses and tongues detect chemicals? Well, researchers at Cornell Engineering have recently made a breakthrough that could potentially answer all these questions. In a new study published in the Synthetic Biology journal of the American Chemical Society, they have developed a synthetic biosensor that mimics properties found in cell membranes and provides an electronic readout of activity. Read on to find out how this technology could revolutionize our understanding of cell biology, drug development, and more.
The bioengineering feat described in the paper uses synthetic biology to re-create a cell membrane and its embedded proteins, which are gatekeepers of cellular functions. A conducting sensing platform allows for an electronic readout when a protein is activated. Being able to test if and how a molecule reacts with proteins in a cell membrane could generate a great many applications.
The researchers have created a biosensor that starts with a conducting polymer, which is soft and easy to work with, on top of a support that together act as an electric circuit that is monitored by a computer. A layer of lipid (fat) molecules, which forms the membrane, lies on top of the polymer, and the proteins of interest are placed within the lipids. With this technology, proteins can be synthesized directly from DNA, bypassing the need to grow proteins in cells and then harvest and embed them in the membrane platform.
The new sensor opens the door for pharmacologists to research how to create non-opioid pain medicines, or drugs to treat Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, which interact with cell membrane proteins. It also has the potential to create environmental sensors that are sensitive to particular chemicals or pollutants, such as those found in lake water. In addition, scientists may now take the proteins being activated when we smell something and translate the results into this electronic system to sense things that might be undetectable with a chemical sensor.
In short, this new technology could revolutionize the way we study cell biology, develop new drugs, and create sensory organs on a chip capable of detecting chemicals. We are excited to see what the future holds for this breakthrough and how it will shape our understanding of the world around us.