Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories and the University of New Mexico have created 'zombie' cells that function better dead than alive. The new method may have applications in everything from energy production to toxic spill clean-up.
The scientists exposed free floating mammalian cells to silicic acid. The silicic acid permeated the entire cell, coating cellular structures of all shapes and sizes. Then the cells were heated to 400 C, which burned away the organic material of the cell, leaving behind the silica mold. The silica preserved the features of the organic structures in striking detail, down to the nanometer length scale.
The method could have broad implications for industry. Scientists could isolate biological mechanisms in cells and fossilize them to make a kind of reusable mold. So, manufacturing at the scale of micrometers and nanometers may have just become a lot simpler. The method can also be utilized with other materials. Further research is needed to understand fully how the method can be utilized by industry.