Applying modern engineering design tools to one of the basic units of life, [researchers at Yale University and NIST] argue that artificial cells could be built that not only replicate the electrical behavior of electric eel cells but in fact improve on them. Artificial versions of the eel’s electricity generating cells could be developed as a power source for medical implants and other tiny devices, they say.
Researchers David LaVan of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Jian Xu of Yale studied eel cells called electrocytes that allow selective channels to be opened in the cell membrane. Although the mechanism is similar to nerve cells, electrocytes can generate potentials of up to 600 volts for longer periods of time.
Using systems biology, Xu and LaVan analyzed seven different types of channels, developed models and compared them to published data. They identified a number of potential improvements which suggests that an artificial cell 4 mm on each side could develop 300 microwatts for small implant devices. "Like the natural counterpart, the cell’s energy source would be adenosine triphosphate (ATP), synthesized from the body’s sugars and fats using tailored bacteria or mitochondria."
The post includes a pointer to the paper published in Nature Nanotechnology.
Thanks to Elgie Shepard for the pointer!