Using a process which they liken to molecular Lego, scientists from the University of Warwick and the University of Sydney have created what they have named 'Janus nanotubes' -- very small tubes with two distinct faces. The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.
They are named after the Roman god Janus who is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and the past.
The Janus nanotubes have a tubular structure based on the stacking of cyclic peptides, which provide a tube with a channel of around 1nm (around one millionth of a mm) -- the right size to allow small molecules and ions to pass through.
The faces provide two remarkable properties -- in the solid state, they could be used to make solid state membranes which can act as molecular 'sieves' to separate liquids and gases one molecule at a time. This property is promising for applications such as water purification, water desalination and gas storage.
In a solution, they assemble in lipids bilayers, the structure that forms the membrane of cells, and they organise themselves to form pores which allow the passage of molecules of precise sizes. In this state they could be used for the development of new drug systems, by controlling the transport of small molecules or ions inside cells.
"As ion channels are a key component of a wide variety of biological process, for example in cardiac, skeletal and muscle contraction, T-cell activation and pancreatic beta-cell insulin release, they are a frequent target in the search for new drugs.
"Our work has created a new type of material -- nanotubes -- which can be used to replace these channel processes and can be controlled with a much higher level of accuracy than natural channel proteins.
"Janus nanotubes are a versatile platform for the design of exciting materials which have a wide range of application, from membranes -- for instance for the purification of water, to therapeutic uses, for the development of new drug systems."
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