Albuquerque, N.M. (CBS LAS VEGAS) — 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.
“By heating the silica to relatively low heat (400 C), the organic material of the cell — its protein — evaporates and leaves the silica in a kind of three-dimensional Madame Tussauds wax replica of a formerly living being,” 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.”