Saturday 16 January 2016

Biologically Powered Chip Created


Linking Biological Electronic Device with CMOS

For the first time, Columbia Engineering researchers have connected the molecular machinery of living systems for the purpose of powering an integrated circuit from adenosine triphosphate –ATP, energy currency of life.

They have attained this on integrating conventional solid state complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor – CMOS unified circuit with an artificial lipid bilayer membrane comprising of ATP powered ion pumps which tends to open the door to the development of a completely new artificial method which has both the biological as well as solid state constituents.

Led by Lau Family Professor of Electrical Engineering and professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia Engineering, Ken Shepard, the study has been published online on Dec 7 in Nature Communications. Shepard states that `in linking a biological electronic device with CMOS, it will be capable of creating new methods not possible with technology alone and are excited at the scene of increasing the palette of active devices which will have new functions, like harvesting energy from ATP which is done here or recognizing specific molecules. This would give the chips the potential to taste and smell. This has been a unique new direction and has great potential in giving solid-state system, new capabilities with biological components.’

CMOS Solid State Electronics – Inability to Imitate Certain Tasks

Shepard’s lab which heads the development of engineered solid state schemes interfaced to biological schemes records that inspite of its success, CMOS solid-state electronics does not have the ability of imitating certain tasks natural to living systems like the sense of taste and smell as well as the use of biochemical energy sources.

 Living systems tend to attain this functionality based on their own form of electronics built on lipid membranes and ion channels as well as pumps which tend to act as a type of biological transistor. The use of charge in the form of ion in carrying energy and information – ion channels tends to control the flow of ions through cell membranes.

The solid-state systems, like those in computers as well as communication devices utilises electrons, where the electronic signalling together with power seems to be controlled by field-effect transistors. In the case of living systems, the energy is stockpiled in capacities through lipid membranes and in this instance, is created through the action of ion pumps.

ATP Utilised in Transporting Energy

ATP is utilised in transporting energy from where it is generated to the cell where it is consumed. Shepard’s team led by Jared Roseman, a PhD student, packed a CMOS integrated circuit – IC with an ATP harvesting `biocell’ in order to build a prototype of hybrid system. In the existence of ATP, the system pumped ions through the membrane and produced an electrical potential gathered by the IC.

While the other groups had gathered energy from living systems, Shepard together with his team had been exploring on how to do this task at the molecular level, in isolating only the desired function and interfacing it with electronics. He goes on to explain that the whole cell is not needed but only the component of the cell is taken which is needed. For the project, the ATPase is isolated since they are the proteins which enable us in extracting energy from ATP.

 The capacity in building a system which tends to combine the power of solid-state electronics with the potentials of biological components is great. He has commented that `a bomb-sniffing dog is essential now though if one can take just the part of the dog which is useful, the molecules that tend to do the sensing, we would not need the whole animal’.

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