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Part-Human, Part-Machine Transistor Devised

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representation of transistor within cell-like membrane

An artist's representation of a new transistor that's contained within a cell-like membrane. In the core of the device is a silicon nanowire (grey), covered with a lipid bilayer (blue).

Credit: Scott Dougherty / LLNL

University of California, Merced (UCM) researchers have created a part-human, part-machine device that features a nano-sized transistor embedded in a cell-like membrane that is powered by the cell's fuel. The researchers say the device could be used to relay information about disease-related proteins inside the cell membrane, and eventually lead to new ways to read and influence brain or nerve cells. "This device is as close to the seamless marriage of biological and electronic structures as anything else that people did before," says UCM's Aleksandr Noy.

The transistor is based on a carbon nanotube, a tiny straw-shaped material made from a single curved layer of carbon atoms arranged like the panels of a soccer ball. The carbon nanotube transistor was coated with a lipid bilayer and an ion pump was added, which is fueled by a solution of adenosine tri-phosphate. The ion pump changes the electrical charge within the cell, which then changes the charge in the transistor.

However, researchers say that in future versions of the device an outside electrical current could power the device, which could enable the transistor to monitor and treat diseases.

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