Said to be 'inspired by nature' (calm down Galaxy S3 fans), a team of international researchers have created synthetic pores that accurately re-produce the function of cellular ion channels – proteins that allows our cells to absorb essential nutrients but keep the more harmful substances out, a vital role in human health.

According to Bing Gong PhD, a chemistry professor at the University of Buffalo and who led the research, the synthetic pores reproduce a type of extreme selectivity that is unprecedented for a man-made synthetic structure. The team created the pores using a method in which donut-shaped molecules called 'rigid macrocycles' are forced to sit atop one another. Using hydrogen bonding to literally 'stitch' the molecules together, the researchers created a nanotube structure with a pore less than a nanometer in diameter – selective enough to allow potassium ions and water to pass through but restrictive enough to block potentially harmful ions such as sodium and lithium ions.

What does all that mean? As it might be obvious by now, the synthetic pores could be used to desalinate sea water – an estimated 900 million people across the globe still don't have access to clean drinking water – and, potentially, be used to cure diseases and kill threatening tumours by regulating the substances allowed to pass through the cell. This is one well worth keeping an eye on.

Richard Birkett

Source: Nature Communications

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