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These Scientists Have Created Nano-Pipes That Are Two Million Times Smaller Than An Ant

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering have developed microscopic leak-free pipes using DNA strands. The diameter of each nanotube is about 7 x 10-9 m and has a length of a dust particle.

By combining different nanotubes together, scientists can develop large networks of DNA pipes and link those to different microscopic biostructures to carry out several functions like the transfer of biomolecules.

Explaining the potential of nanotubes further, one of the lead researchers and associate professor at Johns Hopkins University (JHU), Rebecca Schulman told IE, “Tinier plumbing might help us analyze individual molecules, which could help us make better drugs or enzymes, separate toxins, or even create better batteries by designing the conduits that ions flow through rather than using a porous material.”

The major difference between nanotube and nanopore is length. A nanopore is usually 10-50 nm long and the type of leaking that occurs in it is of closed type. However, a nanotube has lengths in microns and it works like a real pipe capable of transporting material across barriers.

“In our case, we build a true pipe that can ferry material across a membrane and then another one micron or longer that can ferry material across a membrane barrier and then through a conduit to a final location a micron away,” said Professor Schulman. However, a different type of leak occurs in a microscopic pipe, like what you also see in plumbing — holes in the walls of the tube that could let material leak out.

Professor Schulman suggests that several groups are currently working on nanotubes for use in drug delivery. They could be employed to direct the flow of molecules or ions between cells in engineered tissues. This kind of application could be vital for growing tissues in the lab like cardiac patches.

Although the applications of nanotubes seem promising, these are still limited to laboratory settings. So before bringing nanotubes to the mainstream, further research, animal studies, and clinical trials need to be performed.

Professor Schulman further stated that the team had only studied leaks for one type of molecule – a fluorescent dye. They will need to repeat these methods for other molecules to learn more about what types of molecules can easily be delivered or collected. They also believe that for transporting something smaller, like “ions” they will have to build a coating for the tubes, which they are also working on.

The researchers are now planning to build large plumbing networks by connecting nanotubes as pipes and using nanopores as their fittings.

The study is published in the journal Science Advances.