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Engineering membranes from cellular parts

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1:11pm, January 23, 2006

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.

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