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February 23, 2013

BehindTheMedspeak: Researchers develop 'zombie' cells that work better after death


Pictured above, a "zombie" cell.

Be afraid.

Be very afraid.

You've heard of people worth more dead than alive?

Now they work better that way too.

Bizarro World comes to life, at long last.

Below, excerpts from a February 20, 2013 CBS News report on how death trumps life when it comes to function.


Researchers have developed mammalian "zombie" cells that can actually function more effectively after dying.

By replicating a near-perfect version of a living mammalian cell, University of New Mexico researchers have created cells that not only look identical, but are also more apt to survive adverse conditions than the living organisms they were modeled after.

Sandia National Laboratories researchers, along with the University of New Mexico, created the cells by placing free-floating mammal cells into a petri dish and coating them with a silicic acid solution. For reasons that the study says are still "partially unclear," the silicic acid enters and embalms every organelle in the cells.

The hardening silica forms a type of “permeable armor” around the protein in the living cells, which allows researchers to test them at temperatures and pressures far exceeding those in nature.

"After heating the silica… the organic material of the cell — its protein — evaporates, and leaves the silica in a kind of three-dimensional Madame Tussaud's-like wax replica of a formerly living thing," the researchers found.

But instead of simply modeling the physical appearance of some famous figure, the hardened silica-based cells display incredibly intricate features that range from nano- to millimeter-sized lengths. The researchers ultimately turn precious biological material into a fossil that can be indefinitely studied.

Researcher Bryan Kaehr, a Sandia scientist, provided what could be the first ever scientific distinction made between a "mummy" and "zombie" cell.

"King Tut was mummified," said Kaehr, "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."


Below, the abstract of the paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Cellular complexity captured in durable silica biocomposites

Tissue-derived cultured cells exhibit a remarkable range of morphological features in vitro, depending on phenotypic expression and environmental interactions. Translation of these cellular architectures into inorganic materials would provide routes to generate hierarchical nanomaterials with stabilized structures and functions. Here, we describe the fabrication of cell/silica composites (CSCs) and their conversion to silica replicas using mammalian cells as scaffolds to direct complex structure formation. Under mildly acidic solution conditions, silica deposition is restricted to the molecularly crowded cellular template. Inter- and intracellular heterogeneity from the nano- to macroscale is captured and dimensionally preserved in CSCs following drying and subjection to extreme temperatures allowing, for instance, size and shape preserving pyrolysis of cellular architectures to form conductive carbon replicas. The structural and behavioral malleability of the starting material (cultured cells) provides opportunities to develop robust and economical biocomposites with programmed structures and functions.


Up in Mountain View, Ray Kurzweil is smiling — BIG-TIME.

[via one of my Crack Yinzer Correspondents®™©]

February 23, 2013 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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Seems like a perfect and intricate replica, it "functions" as a medium that can be studied, but certainly does not "survive" adverse conditions anymore that a prefect wax figure survives a snowstorm, or a ceramic replica survives a fire. At least that's how I read it. Sure hope I'm right.

Posted by: tamra | Feb 25, 2013 2:10:28 AM

Me lost also...

Posted by: joepeach | Feb 23, 2013 8:56:08 PM

Read the article, and it left me confused.

Is the silica residue a fossil? How does the silica residue 'function'? I do not understand how a inorganic substance can metabolize like an organic cell. What work can it do?

Please expand and clarify.

Posted by: antares | Feb 23, 2013 8:28:28 PM

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