A study predicts that carbon-60 molecules, or buckyballs, are easily absorbed into animal cells, providing a possible explanation for how the molecules could be toxic to humans. Using computer simulations, University of Calgary scientists modeled the interaction between carbon-60 molecules and cell membranes. They found that the particles are able to enter cells by permeating their membranes without causing mechanical damage.

The team used the high-powered computing resources of WestGrid - a partnership between 14 Western Canadian institutions - to run some of the cell behavior simulations. The resulting model showed that buckyball particles are able to dissolve in cell membranes, pass into cells, and re-form particles on the other side where they can cause damage to cells.

Buckyballs form naturally in minute quantities under extreme conditions such as lightning strikes. They can also be produced artificially, and can be used to produce hollow fibers known as carbon nanotubes. Both substances have incredible strength and heat resistance, and potential applications include the production of industrial materials, drug delivery systems, fuel cells, and even cosmetics. In recent years, much research has focused on the potential health and environmental impacts of buckyballs and carbon nanotubes.

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