Research highlight

Materials science: Tiny talkers use a chemical language

Nature Communications

May 31, 2017

Nanoparticles that talk to each other using chemical messengers are described in a study published in Nature Communications this week. This achievement may inspire future development of nanoscale computing and information processing.

Living creatures use molecules to communicate; for example, many animals use pheromones to send alarm signals or attract mates, and neurons relay information through neurotransmitters. Human-made nanomaterials are not yet advanced enough to communicate on this level. Implementing bidirectional communication between chemical species has been challenging, and previously reported efforts have achieved only one-way communication. Taking cues from nature, Ramon Martinez-Manez and colleagues design a pair of nanoparticles that can share and process messages with each other, in both directions. The messages are encoded in a chemical ‘language’ that the nanoparticles can speak and understand. One particle has an enzyme that recognises and transforms a molecule into a signal that the second particle’s enzyme can read. The second particle then interprets this message and ships back a response.

These talking nanoparticles are a step toward building networks of nanodevices that can exchange information, much like the communities found in nature. Such communication networks could conceivably be used in nanoscale computing and logic systems or ‘intelligent’ nanomachines.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms15511

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