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Membrane channel lets only some ions in: Streptomyces lividans

The membrane of Streptomyces lividans cells lets potassium ions in but not sodium via a potassium-specific channel.

BIOMIMICRY TAXONOMY
Summary
"The researchers cracked the structure of the protein through a technique called X-ray crystallography, and it then became clear how the channel would admit potassium ions only, even though closely-related sodium ions were even smaller. The structural analysis showed the channel is lined by oxygen atoms that mimic the water cluster normally surrounding a potassium ion in aqueous solution. Sodium has a slightly different water shell, and so cannot fit through the channel. The analysis also revealed parts of the protein that receive 'on' and 'off' chemical signals." (Coghlan 2003)
About the inspiring organism
Streptomyces
Streptomyces

Learn more at EOL.org
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist


Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Develop water filtration systems that select for a variety of specific ionic solutes. Metal ions could be targeted for recovery or detoxification. Sodium or potassium ions could be targeted for desalination or health purposes. Separation of potassium can be used to create ionic salts or other chemical reactions.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Water utilities, contaminated site remediation, medicine, ionic salts process

Experts
Laboratory of Molecular Neurobiology and Biophysics
Roderick MacKinnon
The Rockefeller University
References
Andy Coghlan. 2003. Chemistry Nobel rewards crucial cell membrane work. NewScientist.com news service. (October 8):
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