The individual cell is defined in part by the boundary membrane that keeps its contents within and restricts
the entry of external material. The earliest cells must have been bounded by membranes that were leaky so
that some nutrients could enter, waste materials could exit, and other chemical requirements could be facilitated.
Of course, there is no fossil record of membranes but we know that modern bilayers are breached by protein
channels that selectively transport cations, anions, and various chemical species into and out of cells. These
proteins closely regulate the cell?s interior and are vital to survival. During the past two decades, synthetic,
membrane-penetrating amphiphiles have been developed that exhibit some of the properties of the far more
complex protein channels. Crown ether-derived ?hydraphile? synthetic cation-conducting channels are an
example of a synthetic amphiphile that selectively transports Na+ into cells. Based on the success of developing the
family of hydraphile compounds, we have extended the structural types to an array of amphiphiles. These include
amphiphilic peptides and pyrogallolarenes. Some of the experiments that have led to our understanding of
how these amphiphiles function will be discussed, along with novel applications as co-transporters of antibiotics.
In addition, some very simple anion complexing agents will be shown to function as capable transformation and
transfection agents for DNA plasmids.
George Gokel earned the B.S. in chemistry at Tulane University and the Ph.D. at the University of Southern California working
with Ivar Ugi. He did post-doctoral work with Donald Cram at UCLA. He has held positions at Pennsylvania State University, the
University of Maryland, the University of Miami, and the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He is currently
Distinguished Professor of Science and Director of the Center for Nanoscience at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He has
coauthored more than 400 papers, 15 books, and is named as an inventor on 15 issued patents.
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