Chemists have for the first time spun fibrous networks out of the molecules that make up cellular membranes. The engineered membranes may eventually be used as biocompatible drug-delivery devices or antimicrobial coatings for fabrics or other surfaces.
Phospholipids are molecules that contain a water-attracting chemical group attached to a water-repelling chemical tail. In a cellular membrane, the water-attracting groups, which are exposed to the aqueous cellular environment, sandwich an inner core of water-repelling tails.
Timothy E. Long of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg and his colleagues investigated whether they could manipulate phospholipids with a laboratory technique called electrospinning, which is typically used to process polymer solutions into nanoscale-diameter fibers. In this technique, says Long, researchers apply a voltage to a polymer-filled syringe and spray the cotton candy–like fibers onto a surface.