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A team led by the Lawrence Livermore scientists has created a new kind of ion channel based on short carbon nanotubes, which can be inserted into synthetic bilayers and live cell membranes to form tiny pores that transport water, protons, small ions and DNA.

These carbon nanotube "porins" have significant implications for future health care and bioengineering applications. Nanotube porins eventually could be used to deliver drugs to the body, serve as a foundation of novel biosensors and DNA sequencing applications, and be used as components of synthetic cells.

Researchers have long been interested in developing synthetic analogs of biological membrane channels that could replicate high efficiency and extreme selectivity for transporting ions and molecules that are typically found in natural systems. However, these efforts always involved problems working with synthetics and they never matched the capabilities of biological proteins.

Unlike taking a pill which is absorbed slowly and is delivered to the entire body, carbon nanotubes can pinpoint an exact area to treat without harming the other organs around.

"Many good and efficient drugs that treat diseases of one organ are quite toxic to another," said Aleksandr Noy, an LLNL biophysicist who led the study and is the senior author on the paper appearing in the Oct. 30 issue of the journal, Nature. "This is why delivery to a particular part of the body and only releasing it there is much better."

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