Proteins could form the heart of new electronic gadgets

I wonder if it will hang on. A new article, published on the arXiv database, introduces a name for a new field of research: proteotronics, or the study and development of electronic circuits with proteins as a plug-in part.

Apparently, proteins have their own unique electrical properties. Pass a current through them and different proteins will react differently. The authors of the article, a team of three Italian engineers, demonstrated that a protein is even capable of acting as a switch, reports The Physics arXiv Blog. The researchers passed a current through a protein called OR-17, which is normally found in the noses of rats and reacts to fruity-smelling chemicals called aldehydes. Researchers have found that OR-17 has different electrical properties when it detects different concentrations of an aldehyde called an octanal. It is a switch that toggles in response to the presence of octanal.

Where you could use a protein switch is still an open question. One obvious answer is electronic detectors that detect things like contaminants in water, pollutants in the air, or chemical signs of illness in people. Find a protein that reacts to the chemical you are interested in, measure the electrical changes in the protein, and voila, you have an electronic protein-based detector. This could be another approach to electronic noses that researchers have developed in recent years. Protein-based devices would have a major challenge to overcome, however. They should find a way to keep the potentially delicate proteins inside a silicon gadget intact and functional.

The arXiv Physics Blog


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