'Organic' Circuit Runs on Body Chemicals
Researchers are working on an electrical chip that runs on the chemicals cells use to communicate with each other. In the future, the chip could release drugs into the body for medical treatment.
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Researchers have created a simple circuit using transistors that run on the chemicals that control living processes, rather than the electrons that usual transistors use. The result is a step toward circuits that can get wired into living systems.
The researchers, from Linköping University in Sweden, previously made transistors that carry positive and negative ions, which living cells commonly use to communicate with each other. For example, positively charged ions of calcium, the bone-building stuff in milk, are used as chemical messages to tell human muscles to contract.
For this new study, which the researchers detailed in an article published today (May 29) in the journal Nature Communications, the team combined their ionic transistors into a circuit on a chip. Team members also developed one method that makes both positive and negative ion transistors, instead of employing different methods for the two transistor types, so that one machine can make a circuit using both kinds of transistors. They showed the circuits work in a salty liquid environment, similar to that of bodily fluids.
In the future, a circuit that runs on ions could work with bodily chemicals for medical treatments. "We can, for example, send out signals to muscle synapses where the signaling system may not work for some reason," said Magnus Berggen, who led the research. Ionic circuits could time the release of drugs into the body or regulate brain chemicals, Berggen and his colleagues wrote in their paper. The circuits should work in other living things, too, so they might control how plants and crops grow, the researchers wrote.