Documenting the Coming Singularity

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Researchers design artificial cells that could power medical implants - October 9, 2008

Researchers at Yale University have created a blueprint for artificial cells that are more powerful and efficient than the natural cells they mimic and could one day be used to power tiny medical implants.

The scientists began with the question of whether an artificial version of the electrocyte – the energy-generating cells in electric eels – could be designed as a potential power source. "The electric eel is very efficient at generating electricity," said Jian Xu, a postdoctoral associate in Yale's Department of Chemical Engineering. "It can generate more electricity than a lot of electrical devices."

Xu came up with the first blueprint that shows how the electrocyte's different ion channels work together to produce the fish's electricity while he was a graduate student under former Yale assistant professor of mechanical engineering David LaVan, now at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

But the scientists didn't stop there. "We're still trying to understand how the mechanisms in these cells work," said LaVan. "But we asked ourselves: 'Do we know enough to sit down and start thinking about how to build these things?' Nobody had really done that before."

Using the new blueprint as a guide, LaVan and Xu set about designing an artificial cell that could replicate the electrocyte's energy production. "We wanted to see if nature had already optimized the power output and energy conversion efficiency of this cell," said Xu. "And we found that an artificial cell could actually outperform a natural cell, which was a very surprising result."

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