To intoxicate cells, pore-forming bacterial toxins are evolved to allow for the transmembrane traffic of different substrates, ranging from small inorganic ions to cell-specific polypeptides. Recent developments in single-channel electrical recordings, X-ray crystallography, protein engineering, and computational methods have generated a large body of knowledge about the basic principles of channel-mediated molecular transport. These discoveries provide a robust framework for expansion of the described principles and methods toward use of biological nanopores in the growing field of nanobiotechnology. This article, written for a special volume on “Intracellular Traffic and Transport of Bacterial Protein Toxins
”, reviews the current state of applications of pore-forming bacterial toxins in small- and macromolecule-sensing, targeted cancer therapy, and drug delivery. We discuss the electrophysiological studies that explore molecular details of channel-facilitated protein and polymer transport across cellular membranes using both natural and foreign substrates. The review focuses on the structurally and functionally different bacterial toxins: gramicidin A of Bacillus brevis
, α-hemolysin of Staphylococcus aureus
, and binary toxin of Bacillus anthracis
, which have found their “second life” in a variety of developing medical and technological applications.