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Water flow in nanotubes

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Biological cells have evolved highly optimized molecular devices made from nanometer size proteins that are the basis for all cellular processes. Engineers seek to conquer the domain of such nanodevices and naturally they look to nature for guidance. In turn, biologists look to nanoengineers for new tools to manipulate cells. A recent study attempts a third type of exchange at the cell - nanotechnology frontier, use of nanodevices that mimic proteins for better understanding of the functions of both: the engineered system can be much simpler than the protein and much easier to comprehend, whereas the protein is more evolved and can reveal the design principles for optimized function. The study links two renowned devices, nanotube and membrane channel. Using the molecular dynamics program NAMD, water flow through nanotubes is simulated and compared with earlier studies of aquaporin water channels in bacteria.

At present, the exchange benefits biology: the very simple nanotube reveals the principles of biologial water conduction, in particular, water flow without loss of electrical voltage. In the future, nanoengineering may benefit, for example, in designing filters for mechanical desalination of sea water.