But researchers had difficulties, says Sasaki, perhaps because they used a composite lipid called egg PC that requires unnecessarily high energies to bend into a tubular shape.
Egg PC is inexpensive, readily available, and offers good, stable membrane properties. It is the usual lipid of choice in forming nanocylinders via mechanical stretching techniques.
But Sandia postdoctoral researcher Haiqing Lui instead used POPC a single pure lipid requiring half the bending energy of egg PC.
She was trying to generate nanotubes by a completely different approach that involved the use of motor proteins to stretch naturally occurring membranes into tubes.
Working with Sandia researcher George Bachand, she serendipitously found that interaction of the POPC membrane with a high affinity protein called streptavidin alone was enough to form the nanotubes.
"Perhaps this information linking membrane bending energy with nanotube formation may provide some clue about the membrane structure and the cell's ability to form such intercellular connections," Sasaki says.
The formation was confirmed by Sandia researcher Carl Hayden, who characterized the nanotube formation through a confocal imaging microscope. The custom instrument allows pixel-by-pixel examination of the protein interaction with the membranes comprising the nanotubes by detecting the spectrum and lifetimes of fluorescent labels on the proteins.
Nanotube formation had been noticed previously by cell biologists, but they had dismissed the tiny outgrowths as "junk an aberration of cells growing in culture," says Sasaki. "The reason they were only noticed recently as trafficking routes is because of labeling studies that marked organelles and proteins. This allowed a focused look at what these nanostructures might be used for."
It became clear, says Sasaki, that the organelles were being transported with "specific directionality" on t
|Contact: Neal Singer|
DOE/Sandia National Laboratories