Arizona State University chemists Mark Hayes and Michele Pysher have found that liposomes have a tendency to form tube-like extensions in their membranes through the influence of local electrical fields. In particular, the surprising finding of such electrically caused bionanotubule formation may reveal a previously unknown process involved in the development of structures like axons and dendrites in nerve cells.
Hayes will present the results of the experiments at a 2 p.m. March 15 session entitled "Colloids in Complex Fluids" at the American Chemical Society meeting in San Diego.
In the experiments, the researchers placed liposomes in a droplet of water and applied very low electric fields (5-10 volts per centimeter), much lower than the fields present in operating neurons (a fraction of a volt but operating over a very short distance--less than a micron--to produce a field up to one thousand times stronger). In images achieved through optical and scanning electron microscopy, microtubules were observed to immediately form and extend from the phospholipid balloon, like a seed putting forth a stalk or root.
Hayes believes that the phenomena may have significant implications for both cellular biology and for nanotechnology. "This finding might not only be important in its application to understanding life processes, but it has a potentially exciting practical application in the fabrication of bionanotubes," he said.