Man Made Pores Can Act As Gate-Keeper

First Posted: Jul 23, 2012 07:55 AM EDT

The international research team had created synthetic pores that mimic the activity of cellular ion channels, which play a vital role in human health by blocking the types of materials allowed to enter cells.

Chemistry professor Bing Gong, PhD, University at Buffalo, who led the study said, "The pores built by the scientists are permeable to potassium ions and water but block other ions such as sodium and lithium ions. This kind of extreme selectivity, prominent in nature is unprecedented for a synthetic structure."

The research that appeared on July 17 in Nature Communication opens up technological possibilities as scientists could use such highly discerning pores to purify water, kill tumors, or otherwise treat disease by regulating the substances inside of cells. 

"The idea for this research originated from the biological world, from our hope to mimic biological structures, and we were thrilled by the results," Gong said. "We have created the first quantitatively confirmed synthetic water channel. Few synthetic pores are so highly selective."

The study' was led by Xibin Zhou of Beijing Normal University; Guande Liu of Shanghai Jiao Tong University; Kazuhiro Yamato, postdoctoral scientist at UB; and Yi Shen of Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The synthetic pores were synthesized by driving donut-shaped molecules known as rigid macrocycles to stack up on top of one another. Hydrogen bonding was employed to sew the stack of molecules together. The resulting structure was a nanotube with a pore measuring less than 1 nm in diameter. The self-assembly process of the stacks produces nanotubes of uniform diameter measuring 8.8 angstroms.

The researcher's next plan to tune the structure of the pores in order to permit different materials to selectively pass through and to figure out what qualities govern the transport of materials through the pores, Gong said.

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