Scientists Invent Electrical Protein Switch

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A US-based scientific team successfully devised a chemical-triggered electrical protein switch which can be used to control the flow of electrons within cells. The ground-breaking invention could be the next step towards developing next-generation bioelectronics. The technology can further aid in the creation of smart pills which can be used to release medication on demand. The switches were tested using E Coli bacteria as a platform. A chemical is introduced in the cells to induce the expression of metal-containing proteins which are then functionally activated using a different chemical. The process is used to turn proteins on and off inside the cell.

The electrical protein switch can help in the fabrication of next-generation bioelectronics such as complete biological circuits which mimic electronic circuits. The potential applications of the bioelectronics device are the development of living sensors, creating metabolic pathways that can be electronically controlled to trigger chemical synthesis and active pills which intelligently sense their environment and release chemicals and medications when necessary.

The electrical protein switch leverages the intrinsic sensing ability of natural biology to detect the chemical trigger. Certain proteins in a cell control and trigger the flow of electrons inside the cell. The study visualizes these proteins as natural wiring present inside the cell. Further, the study suggests ways these pathways can be electronically controlled and switched on and off to control the working of a cell and eventually increase its efficiency of working.

In order to develop a switch that could be used in a synthetic electron pathway, the researchers required a stable protein that could be split along its peptide backbone. The splitting would allow researchers to insert fragments of proteins that will enable the completion or breaking of a circuit. After thorough research, biologists found their solution in ferredoxin, a naturally occurring protein that facilitates electron transfer in all phases of life. The discovery has opened up avenues for developing custom-designed for an array of applications including contact with external electronic devices.

Effectively streamlining the whole process of creating a biological-electrical switch can open up an altogether new avenue to work with living cells. The potential applications can include the development of gut biome detectors that can monitor and report the real-time conditions inside a human’s stomach or creating the first of its kind complete electrical circuit inside a cell. The already existing research helps for mapping a lot of electrical properties onto the metabolic processes. However, there had been no switch to control the mapped properties. With the development of a biological-electrical switch, the complete processing of a cell can be controlled electronically.

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