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Nat Nanotechnol. 2008 Nov;3(11):666-70. doi: 10.1038/nnano.2008.274. Epub 2008 Sep 21.

Designing artificial cells to harness the biological ion concentration gradient.

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  • 1Department of Chemical Engineering, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA.


Cell membranes contain numerous nanoscale conductors in the form of ion channels and ion pumps that work together to form ion concentration gradients across the membrane to trigger the release of an action potential. It seems natural to ask if artificial cells can be built to use ion transport as effectively as natural cells. Here we report a mathematical calculation of the conversion of ion concentration gradients into action potentials across different nanoscale conductors in a model electrogenic cell (electrocyte) of an electric eel. Using the parameters extracted from the numerical model, we designed an artificial cell based on an optimized selection of conductors. The resulting cell is similar to the electrocyte but has higher power output density and greater energy conversion efficiency. We suggest methods for producing these artificial cells that could potentially be used to power medical implants and other tiny devices.

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