“Zombie” cells created in New Mexico Lab can help in advancement of nanotechnology

Researchers have created zombie cells that are not actually alive cells but can perform many functions of the mammalian cells.

This research was published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Don’t worry these cells don’t eat humans but they could be effectively used commercially in sensors, catalysts, fuel cells and a range of other applications. These cells could form next generation of nanotechnological devices, in which metals would be replaced by these cells.

The first stage of the "zombie cell" only moderately heated, the cell is now pure silica and needed a gold coating for a scanning electron microscope to image it. (Credit: Sandia National Laboratories)

The first stage of the “zombie cell” only moderately heated, the cell is now pure silica and needed a gold coating for a scanning electron microscope to image it. (Credit: Sandia National Laboratories)

“It’s very challenging for researchers to build structures at the nanometer scale,” lead researcher Dr. Bryan Kaehr, a materials scientist at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, said in a written statement. “We can make particles and wires, but 3-D arbitrary structures haven’t been achieved yet. With this technique, we don’t need to build those structures — nature does it for us.”

The technique involved the addition of silica into the living cells then heating the cells, so that the proteins, constituting the cells, would be burnt completely leaving the non-living but structurally similar zombie cells.

Dr. Jeffrey Brinker, a University of New Mexico professor and another member of the research team, said in the statement that the zombie cells exist in a “robust, three-dimensionally stable form that resists shrinkage even upon heating to over 500 degrees Centigrade [932 degrees Fahrenheit]. The refractoriness of these delicate structures is amazing.”

These zombie cells perform better when they die and may help a lot in biochemical processes. These cells can survive at greater temperatures than the living flesh.

“King Tut was mummified,” Kaehr said in a statement, “to approximately resemble his living self, but the process took place without mineralization [a process of fossilization]. Our zombie cells bridge chemistry and biology to create forms that not only near-perfectly resemble their past selves, but can do future work.”

Reference:

Bryan Kaehr, Jason L. Townson, Robin M. Kalinich, Yasmine H. Awad, B. S. Swartzentruber, Darren R. Dunphy, and C. Jeffrey Brinker, (2012). Cellular complexity captured in durable silica biocomposites. PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1205816109