While researchers across the world have been continuously learning and discovering more about the functions of cells, many questions still remain unanswered. A team of researchers at Imperial College London have successfully created nanoscale tweezers which are nearly 2000 times thinner than the width of a human hair. The nanotweezers can extract cellular components including single strands of DNA and other molecules without killing or causing damage to the living cell.
According to the researchers whose work has been outlined in journal Nature Nanotechnology, the new tool could help scientists create a human cell atlas that enable better understating of how healthy cells functions and where diseased cell go wrong. The Nanotweezers are made up of a sharp glass rod with less than 100 nanometers wide tip that split into two electrodes formed of carbon-based material separated by a gap of 20 nanometers.
Under the influence of an electric voltage, the tweezers can create a power magnetic field in regions around the electrodes that can attract and trap biomolecules within a range of 300 nanometers of the tip and pull them out of the cells without damaging either part.
Once trapped, the molecules get stuck at the tip until the tweezers voltage turns off. By positioning the nano tweezers with ideal precision, scientists can target specific cell compartments and extract particular molecules. Operating technique of the new tool is based on a phenomenon known as dielectrophoresis.
The research team used the newly developed tweezers to extract DNA from the nuclei of cancer cells in the human bone without causing any damage. They have also been able to pull out mRNA molecules (protein-building instructions) of the cytoplasm of artery cells. Ability to extract mRNA from two different spots of single cell confirms that the nanotweezers could be used to examine the same cell multiple times.
The researchers believed that the ability to pull out single molecules from a cell itself sets the technology apart from conventional methods and could enable cellular research and studies that have not previously been possible. So far, the experiments are done in petri dishes. The team plans to test the nanotweezers on cells within tissue samples next.