Molecular Biology

Fullerene



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The Nikkei Weekly (May 3, 2010. pg 16) had an article about the fullerene molecule and its wide range of possible applications. The fullerene is a hollow spherical shaped carbon molecule, whose existence was predicted by Japanese scientist Eiji Osawa. The actual molecule was discovered in 1985. In 1991 researchers in the United States discovered that fullerenes could become superconductive when treated with alkali metals. This generated much interest around the world since superconductivity is one of the “holy grails” of the electronics industry. The molecule was originally named buckminsterfullerene after Buckminster Fuller, the inventor of the geodesic dome. The molecule does look like a geodesic dome or soccer ball. Later the name of the molecule was shortened to fullerene. The molecules are also called “bucky balls.” 

Fullerenes have already found uses in cosmetics. The fullerene in the cosmetic helps to negate the harmful effects of UV rays from the sun. 

Research is being done right now for potential applications of fullerenes. Because of fullerene the start up company ideal Star is able create thread like solar cells. The president of the ideal Star hopes to create clothing which can generate power. This almost sounds like science fiction coming to life. If one remembers, the original Iron Man series from Marvel, the hero had a suit which was solar powered. Mitsubishi Corporation is also taking an interest in using fullerenes to create flexible solar cells. One of its members believes that the cost of solar generated electricity can be brought down if fullerenes are used instead of silicon. In addition to solar energy, fullerenes may find application in data storage. A research team, led by Tomonobu Nakayama, used fullerenes in recording data at a density roughly 1,000 times the recording density of the hard drive. 

There are also possible medical applications of fullerenes. The Nikkei Weekly under the subheading “Gene ferries” states that the fullerenes could be used as “vectors” to insert genes into cells. Apparently genes cannot simply be inserted into a cell. Genes apparently need a mode of transport, so the fullerene serves as a boat to get from point A to point B. Since the genes are mixed with the fullerenes, maybe an illustration could be used from the field of medicine. Patients normally do not like to take foul tasting medicine. Somewhere along the line physicians discovered that patients were more likely to take the medicine if it had a nice taste to it. So honey or other such substances were mixed in with the medicine to make it more palatable. Perhaps fullerenes serve a similar function when introducing the gene into a cell. The article mentioned that fullerenes were used to introduce a gene which fluoresces green light into some mice. The green light showed up in tissue samples taken 12 hours later. In another experiment fullerenes were used to introduce the gene for insulin into some mice. This resulted in an increase in insulin and a decrease in blood sugar. Perhaps this has implications for the treatment of diabetes. One of the researchers stated that their goal was not to treat lifestyle diseases such as diabetes but cancer and genetic diseases. It appears that this researcher is focused on using fullerenes as markers to help medicine serve as magic bullets to destroy designated targets While addressing cancer and genetic diseases is an admirable goal, one should not neglect the other possible applications of fullerenes. It is this writer's opinion, that given the results of the experiments, fullerenes should be considered as a possible treatment for diabetes. 

It is interesting how one type of molecule can have such a myriad of uses. Perhaps we have not yet exhausted the possible uses and applications of the fullerene

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