Technology promises to fuse human cells and computers

By COLIN LECHER | POPULAR SCIENCE | MAY 31, 2012

The Chemical Circuit, a chemical chip can deliver a neurotransmitter like acetylcholine, which enables chemical control of muscles. Linköping University, Sweden

The human body isn’t a metal machine, but it’s still plenty complicated, and regulating it like a machine is tough to pull off. That’s why a new discovery by Klas Tybrandt, a doctoral student in Organic Electronics at Linköping University, Sweden, is exciting: he’s developed the first integrated chemical chip, similar to silicon-based electronics, but for biologic material.

A chemical circuit made from it lets chemical substances—different types with different purposes—travel through the body, but still keeps them under control. Send a certain chemical to muscle synapses that aren’t signaling, for example, and guide it via the circuit. (The big chemical contender in this seems to be the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which enables control of muscles.) Before this, the Organic Electronics research group at Linköping University had already developed transistors for transporting molecules, but this circuit offers a lot more flexibility—what was once delivery to single cells is now entire pathways.

Researchers are hoping this opens the gate for a whole new field of circuit technology based on ions and molecules instead of electrons and holes.

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