CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- More than 2,000 years after Archimedes found a way to determine the density of a king's crown by measuring its mass in two different fluids, MIT scientists have used the same principle to solve an equally vexing puzzle how to measure the density of a single cell.
"Density is such a fundamental, basic property of everything," says William Grover, a research associate in MIT's Department of Biological Engineering. "Every cell in your body has a density, and if you can measure it accurately enough, it opens a whole new window on the biology of that cell."
The new method, described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of June 20, involves measuring the buoyant mass of each cell in two fluids of different densities. Just as measuring the crown's density helped Archimedes determine whether it was made of pure gold, measuring cell density could allow researchers to gain biophysical insight into fundamental cellular processes such as adaptations for survival, and might also be useful for identifying diseased cells, according to the authors.
Grover and recent MIT PhD recipient Andrea Bryan are lead authors of the paper. Both work in the lab of Scott Manalis, a professor of biological engineering, member of the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and senior author of the paper.
Going with the flow
Measuring the density of living cells is tricky because it requires a tool that can weigh cells in their native fluid environment, to keep them alive, and a method to measure each cell in two different fluids.
In 2007, Manalis and his students developed the first technique to measure the buoyant mass of single living cells. Their device, known as a suspended microchannel resonator, pumps cells, in fluid, through a microchannel that runs across a tiny silicon cantilever, or diving-board structure. That cantilever vibrates within a vacuum; when a cell f
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Massachusetts Institute of Technology