extreme stresses of the radiation and vacuum of outer space.
Of the NASA mission, Brinker says, "Ordinarily, exposed to such extreme conditions, the cells would turn into raisins. But, because of the remarkable coherency of the cell-lipid-silica interface and the ability of the lipid-silica nanostructure to serve as a reservoir for water, no cracking or shrinkage is observed. The cells are maintained in the necessary fluidic environment."
The cell-architected nanostructure is, he says, "an amazing way to preserve a cell."
The cells already have emerged still viable after examination in electron microscopes and after X-ray exposure in Argonne National Laboratory's Advanced Photon Source, where the accelerating voltage ranges from one to 20 keV, says Brinker.
Genetic modification done cheap
It is noteworthy that the entrapped cells easily absorb other nano-components inserted at the cellular interface. Because of this, the cell can internalize new DNA (introduced as a plasmid), providing an efficient form of genetic modification of cells without the usual procedures of heat shock or cumbersome puncturing procedures (electroporation) that could result in cell death. Thus, the yeast can be modified to glow fluoresecent green when they contact a harmful chemical or biotoxin.
Because such nanostructures are cheap, extremely light and small, and easy to make, they could conceivably be attached to insects and their emanations read remotely by beams from unmanned aircraft.
The method also makes it easier to prepare individual cells for laboratory investigation under microscopes. "Normally, to visually examine a cell, researchers use time-consuming fixation or solvent extraction techniques," says Brinker. "We can spin-coat a cell in seconds, pop the cell into an electron microscope, and it doesn't shrink when air is evacuated from the microscope chamber."
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