A team led by Lawrence Livermore Lab scientists Nipun Misraa and Julio A. Martinez worked on the discovery, and their results were published earlier this week in PNAS. According to a release about the research:
[The researchers] created a biomechanical hybrid in which nanowires are coated in a lipid bilayer-the same type of membrane that envelopes cells and controls the passage of molecules in and out of the cell. The authors incorporated gated channels in this membrane, and used molecular transport through these channels to trigger an electric signal. The researchers show that the nanowire circuit can be used to make the channels open and close as they would in a biological cell. Although their work is currently in an early stage, later versions of the nanowire technology could find applications in biosensing, neuroscience, and medicine.
There are two things that are very exciting about this early-stage research. One, it means that cellular membranes could be incorporated into computerized devices that are designed to respond to molecules in the environment. Essentially, you could have a cellular sensor at the end of a nanowire.