Whether they are small enough to wriggle through the current-carrying part of an ionic channel or big enough to be kept outside and thus able to exert an osmotic stress on the channel space, polymers interact with channels in several instructive ways. The osmotic stress of excluded polymers allows one to measure the number of water molecules that come out of the channel in transitions between various “open” to “closed” states. The loss of osmotic activity, due to the partial or completely unrestricted admission of small polymers becomes a measure of the transfer probabilities of polymers from solution to small cavities; it provides an opportunity to study polymer conformation in a perfectly sieved preparation. Current fluctuations due to the partial blockage by a transient polymer are converted into estimates of times of passage and diffusion constants of polymers in channels. These estimates show how a channel whose functional states last for milliseconds is able to average over the interactions with polymers, interactions that last only microseconds. One sees clearly that in this averaging, the macromolecular channel is large enough to react like a macroscopic object to the chemical potentials of the species that modulate its activity.

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