A living cell is built with barriers to keep things out – and researchers are constantly trying to find ways to smuggle molecules in. Professor Giovanni Maglia (Biochemistry, Molecular and Structural Biology, KU Leuven) and his team have engineered a biological nanopore that acts as a selective revolving door through a cell’s lipid membrane. The nanopore could potentially be used in gene therapy and targeted drug delivery. All living cells are enclosed by a lipid membrane that separates the interior of the cell from the outside environment. The influx of molecules through the cell membrane is tightly regulated by membrane proteins that act as specific doorways for the trafficking of ions and nutrients. Membrane proteins can also be used by cells as weapons. Such proteins attack a cell by making holes – nanopores – in ‘enemy’ cell membranes. Ions and molecules leak from the holes, eventually causing cell death. Researchers are now trying to use nanopores to smuggle DNA or proteins across membranes. Once inside a cell, the DNA molecule could re-programme the cell for a particular action. Professor Maglia explains: “We are now able to engineer biological nanopores, but the difficult part is to precisely control the passage of
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