Scientists at Rice University (US) have developed electrical protein switches that can control the flow of electrons.
It is triggered by chemicals within cells. This creation could pave the way for next-generation bioelectronics.
Researchers say it could potentially be applied to living sensors and activate pills that sense their environment and release medication only when required.
"Biology is really good at sensing molecules," said JoffSilberg, a professor of biosciences and bioengineering at Rice University.
"That’s an amazing thing. Think about how complex the cell is, and how proteins evolve that can respond to a single prompt in a sea of information. We want to leverage that exquisite ability to build more elaborate biomolecules and use these to develop useful synthetic biology technologies," he further went on to explain.
Researchers needed a stable protein to make the switch. They based the switch on a common iron-sulfur protein called ferredoxin that helps transfer electrons in all domains of life.
How does it work? The proteins that are expressed within cells upon the introduction of one chemical are activated by another chemical. Proteins placed in the cell can simply be turned on and off.
Silberg hopes the discovery leads to custom-designed switches for various applications that include contact with external electronic devices. "It's why we've been so gung-ho about this idea of bioelectronics, a whole field that's emerging as synthetic biology gets more control over the design. Once you can standardise this, there are all kinds of things we can build with cells," he said.