Tech UPTechnologySilk Butterfly Antennas Inspire Nanotechnology

Silk Butterfly Antennas Inspire Nanotechnology

mariposa-sedaEngineers from the University of Michigan (USA) have achievedmimic the structure of the antennae of the silk butterfly ( Bombyx Mori )in building an improvednanoporo, a small tunnel-shaped instrument that could enlarge theknowledge about neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Nanopores, which essentially consist of holes drilled in silicone, aretiny measuring instrumentsthat allow the study of molecules and proteins individually. But even the best nanopores developed to date were easily clogged, so this technology had not yet been widely adopted in laboratories.

To solve this, the team headed by Professor Michael Mayer, from the Biomedical Engineering and Chemical Engineering departments, composed aoily coating that traps the molecules of interest and facilitates their transit through the nanopores. It also allows researchers to adjust pore size with almost atomic precision, according to the latest issue of the journal.Nature Nanotechnology. “This could aid in the diagnosis and improve understanding of what occurs in a category of neurodegenerative diseases that includes Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.”

Imitating silk butterflies

The “fluid lipid double coating” created by Mayer and his colleagues resembles the coating on the male silk butterfly’s antenna , helping it detect female butterflies in its environment. The coating captures the pheromone molecules in the air and carries them through nanotunnels in the exoskeleton to the nerve cells, which send a message to the insect’s brain.

“These pheromones are lipophilic, that is, prone to binding with lipids or fat-like materials. In this way they are captured and concentrated on the surface of this lipid coating in the silk butterfly. The coating lubricates the movement of the pheromones where they need to go. Our new siding serves the same purpose, “says Mayer.

One of Mayer’s main areas of research has been studying proteins called beta-amyloid peptides , which appear to clot and form fibers that “clog up” the brain in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.


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