National Center for Design of Biomimetic Nanoconductors
In the past two years, the work of our center has become focused on the construct that we call the functional protocell or, more frequently, just protocell.
How is the protocell like a biological cell? Like a biological cell, it is surrounded by a membrane that contains lipids and proteins. Like a biological cell, it contains a solution inside comprised of water and solutes, which may be ions or molecules. By varying the contents of the protocell interior, and by varying the chemical composition of the surface membrane, the protocell may acquire a great variety of properties, just as biological cells have various properties based on such variation. A very important point is that the membranes in our protocells are supported on a nanoporous solid that mimics the crowded interior milieu of a living cell. We find that the membranes on such supports behave significantly differently from unsupported membranes. Up to now, practically all biophysical membrane studies have been on unsupported membranes. Our studies show that there are major differences in the behavior of supported and unsupported membranes. One major example is the induction of targeted endocytosis; i.e., the ability of the protocell to induce another cell to “swallow” it.