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The First Biologically Powered Microchip is Here


comp-chip-1580x658Bio-technology has made a huge stride forward. Microchips are everywhere, from in our computers to in our pets (as RFID ear tags).

The newest microchip technology, however, has been created by researchers at Columbia University. They have created a biologically powered microchip, using a chemical biological process to power an integrated circuit.

To create the process, researchers created a two-layer artificial lipid membrane that contained ion pumps. These pumps are powered by adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. ATP is the molecule that transfers chemical energy between living cells. As an example, plans create ATP via photosynthesis, powering functions like cell division.

The membrane was attached to a traditional semiconductor circuit. The “ion pumps basically act[ed] very similarly to transistors,” said Ken Shepard, the study’s lead professor. “The one we used is the same kind of pump that is used to maintain the resting potential in neurons.”

Whole biological systems have been used previously in integration with computer chips, but the Columbia University team took this one step further by isolating the single process they needed to power the circuit of the biologically powered microchip.

In the future, this process could be adapted and utilized in a variety of different ways. Shepard gave the example of a bomb-sniffing dog when discussing the research. Law enforcement may need a dog to sniff for explosives now, but the dog is being used for the molecules that are doing the sensing.

If those can be isolated, the dog may no longer be required. There are loftier aspirations on the horizon for a biologically powered microchip – creating the basis for a microchip that could taste and smell, for instance – but for now, this finding represents a huge step forward in bio-technology.

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