Number 617 #3, December 13, 2002 by Phil Schewe, James Riordon, and Ben Stein
Ion-channel proteins, which act as a sort of circuit element, allowing
the flow of ions in and out of cells, can now be scrutinized in a new
way that exploits technology operative at the single-molecule level.
Scientists from the Center for NanoScience (CeNS) at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University
in Munich don't make electrical contact with cells in the customary
way by pressing an electrolyte-filled glass micro-pipette against the
cell membrane. Instead they allow individual cells to settle down onto
a glass gasket covered with micron-sized pores, allowing the ion-channels
to protrude out the bottom (see figure).
This chip-based architecture, the researchers believe, will more easily
facilitate an automated biotech-nanotech approach to ion-channel research,
which in turn is important for understanding how cells exchange information
in various nervous, cardiovascular, intestinal, and reproductive processes.
(Fertig et al.,
Applied Physics Letters, 16 December 2002; contact Niels Fertig,