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Tiny Motors Controlled Inside Human Cells

Soulskill posted about 6 months ago | from the much-easier-than-controlling-giant-motors-inside-human-cells dept.

Medicine 46

cold fjord tips a BBC report about the successful installation of microscopic motors into living, human cells. The motors were propelled inside the cell by pulses of ultrasound and steered with magnetism. "At low ultrasonic power, the nanomotors had little effect on these cells. But when the power was increased, the nanomotors surged into action, zooming around and bumping into organelles — structures within the cell that perform specific functions. The nanomotors could be used as 'egg beaters' to essentially homogenise the cell's contents, or act as battering rams to puncture the cell membrane." Once finer control is gained over the motors, they could be used to for extremely small scale surgery, or to deliver drugs to very precise locations. Professor Tom Mallouk of Penn State said multiple motors can move independently of one another, which is important if we try to use them as a cancer treatment. "You don't want a whole mass of them going in one direction."

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46 comments

Weapons (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46222793)

Well, it looks like they can be used by the military already. Sure, the doctors will have to wait a while longer, but the terrorists... they can have these right now. Death by mushy internal organs, in such a way that it looks like the work of Allah. What's not to love?

Re:Weapons (2)

Anubis IV (1279820) | about 6 months ago | (#46223213)

This experiment was done on a HeLa cell [wikipedia.org] that ingested the device. There's no word on how they would introduce this to a normal, healthy cell that was still part of a larger organism, nor of how long it would take to ingest it, nor of have they control it using the ultrasonic and magnetic forces.

My guess, however, is that anyone targeted by terrorists intending to employ this attack would be more likely to die of old age first.

Sorry guys (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46222807)

I just heard some sad news on talk radio - Horror/Sci Fi writer Stephen King was found dead in his Maine home this morning. There weren't any more details. I'm sure everyone in the Slashdot community will miss him - even if you didn't enjoy his work, there's no denying his contributions to popular culture. Truly an American icon.

Re:Sorry guys (1)

mwehle (2491950) | about 6 months ago | (#46222893)

I don't understand it - what's the point in falsely reporting someone dead? What do you get out of this?

Re:Sorry guys (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46222913)

Congratulations, you just answered your own question! You also must be a little new here as this not the first time this news has been reported here!

What we really wanted to know is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46222915)

cold fjord forgot to tell us how this research is evil because it wasn't conducted entirely by the profit-making private sector, and omitted to explain the important military applications in enabling America to impose freedom on the rest of the planet.

Re:What we really wanted to know is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46223021)

Wow, that is one of the nastier cases of butt-hurt I've seen here lately! You should see about getting some cream to help you with that.

Re:What we really wanted to know is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46223119)

cold fjord's religious rants are entertaining, and his ego too large to resist responding to criticism, QED.

Re:What we really wanted to know is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46225103)

QED? Dude, you obviously don't understand what that means. You didn't prove anything.

Oh goody (1)

Kultiras (2589819) | about 6 months ago | (#46223043)

Now we just need equally diminutive compute resources to attach to them and some self-replicating abilities, then we can start our own Collective.

Motors? (1)

coolsnowmen (695297) | about 6 months ago | (#46223065)

How are they motors? the derive all of their motive power from energy outside the cell ( ultrasonics and magenetic field). There are more like selective energy receivers.

Oh. The original paper calls them, "Very active gold nanorods...". That makes much more [honest] sense.

Re:Motors? (2)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 6 months ago | (#46223341)

How are they not motors, just because they're wirelessly powered?

Re:Motors? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46223499)

If you would power a baseball externally (throw it) would you call the baseball a motor?

Re:Motors? (1)

icebike (68054) | about 6 months ago | (#46224219)

If you would power a baseball externally (throw it) would you call the baseball a motor?

A motor uses energy to create motion. The definition is imprecise in common usage, but conversion of one
form of energy (electrical, chemical, etc.) into kinetic energy or some form of work is generally required.

The pitcher or the batter could qualify as motors in the strictest sense, they turn chemical energy into kinetic energy.

The baseball simply qualifies as the load. Something upon which work is performed. It acquires kinetic energy, but
all it can do is hand that kinetic energy off to some other object.

Baseballs, unlike baseball players consume no juice.

Re:Motors? (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 5 months ago | (#46226075)

And, like baseballs, the nanorods in the article appear to "consume no juice", and thus would not qualify as motors.

Now, you could perhaps consider the entire nanorods + external ultrasound + magentic field generator system to be a motor(s), but in that case the motor is not within the cell, only the armature(s) is.

Bad nomenclature aside, I suspect this will allow us to start developing a whole new level of understanding of cellular biology.

Re:Motors? (1)

icebike (68054) | about 5 months ago | (#46226153)

If you take the position that the energy source must be located within some arbitrary boundary along with the mechanism to qualify as a motor, then you eliminate any solar powered devices, microwave powered, ore even heat powered devices.

Re:Motors? (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 5 months ago | (#46226405)

As you point out yourself, traditionally the definition of motor is a machine for converting energy into motion. It doesn't matter where the energy is stored, just where it's converted. And in this case I would argue that's in the ultrasound and magnetic generators - the nanorods are just chunks of metal tuned to be receptive to the manipulating forces.

Re:Motors? (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 5 months ago | (#46226997)

That is not powering it externally. The moment it leaves your hand, no more energy is being input.

Old News (1)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | about 6 months ago | (#46223089)

This is old news. Raquel Welsh did this years ago in the Fantastic Voyage.

A couple things... (2)

Gavin Scott (15916) | about 6 months ago | (#46223093)

A couple things...

The environment inside a cell is nothing like a lake or ocean that you can go merrily boating through. The cell is packed with molecules jostling each other around and it's random thermal motion that rules that world. Overcoming that with a motor and expecting to maneuver around to specific places just does not seem like it is going to be effective.

Nature is actually quite fond of electric motors (you have lots of them in every cell in the form of ATP Synthase, and they're used by bacteria to drive flagella etc.) but has apparently not found them useful for maneuvering around inside a cell.

G.

 

Re:A couple things... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46223833)

The way cells currently work is more energy efficient for them. It all works on probabilities. X proteins in a cell, Y enzymes, etc. A Z% chance of a given reaction happening when they meet up.

If we get to the level of making tiny machines the enter cells and do stuff for us, it makes sense to give them motors to get them where they are needed.

Re:A couple things... (1)

icebike (68054) | about 6 months ago | (#46224271)

If we get to the level of making tiny machines the enter cells and do stuff for us, it makes sense to give them motors to get them where they are needed.

We've been making tiny motors to get into cells since forever.
Go ask your daddy.

Re:A couple things... (1)

zebadee (551743) | about 6 months ago | (#46223945)

Nature is actually quite fond of electric motors (you have lots of them in every cell in the form of ATP Synthase, and they're used by bacteria to drive flagella etc.) but has apparently not found them useful for maneuvering around inside a cell.

G.

Apart from from myosin 1 an ATP powered 'motor' that moves intra cellular vesicles around within almost every cell!

Oh and they use ATP so are ATP hydrolysers not synthases

Re:A couple things... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46225011)

Yes, I'm sure you have outsmarted all those scientists that actually build the things.

Re:A couple things... (1)

Redmancometh (2676319) | about 5 months ago | (#46226455)

Under an electron microscope a cell is like a swath of very strange terrain with weirder inhabitants.

Re:A couple things... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46227305)

Nature won't do this because the energy cost is too great for nature to 'consider' it worthwhile.Think about the cost of maintaining a controller to drive these motors intelligently. And you also have to factor the probability of them arising by chance, nature tends to make things by incremental improvements of existing features.

Re:A couple things... (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 5 months ago | (#46228649)

The environment inside a cell is nothing like a lake or ocean that you can go merrily boating through. The cell is packed with molecules jostling each other around and it's random thermal motion that rules that world. Overcoming that with a motor and expecting to maneuver around to specific places just does not seem like it is going to be effective

It has been proposed that at least some motor proteins use that brownian motion as the way to move around in a cellular environment [nih.gov] . Using a force already necessarily present to move stuff is more efficient than generating a magnetic field, that's likely the reason it's preferred to magnetic movement or electric.

Furthermore, I'd argue that the inside of a cell IS in an important way like a lake or ocean: at such small scales, momentum is negligible, same as it is in a cellular environment.

The real reason these are being developed... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46223147)

Is so that the United States government can eradicate "white" DNA from all Americans, and replace it with African-American DNA.

It's a slow, calculated attempt to genocide whites. Fortunately, only those of British descent qualify as being white, according to their own early 20th century rules.

The reason they are doing this is because the British brought slavery to the USA. And while it's undeniable that the first slave owner in America was an African-American (Anthony Johnson), it was the British that followed the example of that African-American and chose to enslave Africans on a massive scale.

And that is why they deserve to have their genetic code destroyed. With these little machines.

Zombies. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46223157)

This is how the zombie apocalypse begins.

without reading the TFA, as usual (1)

Kevin Fishburne (1296859) | about 6 months ago | (#46223317)

It sounds like this sort of research could be the eventual answer to "curing" cancer. As has been discussed extensively here on /., it's looking like there's really no cure but that it can perhaps eventually be treated so effectively that we'll think of it more as the common cold than the ultimate horror it is today.

Re:without reading the TFA, as usual (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#46223673)

How would treating genetic code like an ingredient in a blender "cure" cancer?

Cancer is typically the end result of genetic code degrading to the point where when it replicates, it is producing copies of broken code, and the process just keeps repeating until the body is full of incorrect cells, and the body dies. And something something about programmed cell death not working correctly.

Unless these things were somehow capable of comparing existing genetic code to old genetic code (like from a sample taken when the subject was 5-10 years old), and then was somehow capable of deleting bad code and adding "new" code, I don't see how this could possibly "cure" cancer.

Re:without reading the TFA, as usual (2)

Kevin Fishburne (1296859) | about 6 months ago | (#46224807)

Ask anyone whose life has been saved by chemotherapy, like my mom, and she can give you her doctor's name. It's a blunt instrument, but it has its uses. Seriously though, I did couch my conjecture with terms like "could", "eventual", "perhaps" and "eventually". My thinking was that nanotech and related fields could someday find a way to identify and modify or destroy cells we don't want floating around in us (cancer, viruses, etc.).

Your suggestion about basically creating a DNA checksum of the original then comparing that to newly created cells, I imagine, would be the ultimate solution. Might even help out with long term space travel and such.

Re:without reading the TFA, as usual (1)

Redmancometh (2676319) | about 5 months ago | (#46226499)

There is a VERY promising area of research using quantum dots. Tailor the dot's wavelength to IR and fictionalize it with an antigen. Once put in a magnetic field the dots emit IR attached (on a nano scale) to the cancer site.

Burn baby burn.

Ps: the dots can be used for incredibly improved detection cocktails.

Re:without reading the TFA, as usual (1)

Kevin Fishburne (1296859) | about 5 months ago | (#46226593)

Awesome. Thought you were trolling for a second (that's how over-my-head your response was), but Wikipedia backs up the quantum dots reference. If civilization remains relatively cohesive for the next century the future will be pure ownage from our perspective. Someday we'll be at the cusp of extending life to near immortality. I think people will, in general, be calmer knowing they're not going to die of old age. A new renaissance for humans, and Earth.

Re:without reading the TFA, as usual (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46226769)

More like a new dark age where the immortals try to play god on the inferior people. The Earth will be basically destroyed because our tech will be able to handle the continuous repair of our bodies, so why bother worrying about pollution? It'll be blocked from our smell, taste, and from entering our blood stream.

Re:without reading the TFA, as usual (1)

Kevin Fishburne (1296859) | about 5 months ago | (#46226795)

You'll still have to walk through it and spit out chunks of it? You suggest a dystopian quagmire. The "calming down" part I mentioned would be necessary to avoid that sort of pollution. We'd heal the place, then coexist with and balance it.

Re:without reading the TFA, as usual (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46229403)

I hope things turn out that way.

Re:without reading the TFA, as usual (1)

Redmancometh (2676319) | about 5 months ago | (#46228965)

I say: outstanding this will give us motivation to get off of Earth.

Re:without reading the TFA, as usual (1)

Redmancometh (2676319) | about 5 months ago | (#46229225)

Yeah..my post was pretty poorly written to top things off. It was pretty late, and I was posting it from my cell phone in bed..not a happy combo.

I think my cell phone must have turned "functionalize" into "fictionalize." In my nanotech materials class the professor actually talked about a "detection cocktail" which is really cool.

Apparently (this has been done in rats in vivo) scientists have been able to functionalize large amounts of quantum dots tailored to various wavelengths. So they can inject a bunch of quantum dots functionalized with various antibodies and/or antigens. So let's say they want to test for lung cancer and breast cancer. Let's say the functionalized dot for lung cancer emits at 450nm and the one for breast cancer at 480nm. So you just put them in a magnetic field, and watch for those 2 wavelengths..a high concentration of light means a tumor.

Imagine that but with literally 50 or 60 types of detection at once. Supposedly none of the downsides or toxicity of isotopic dye. Though that is still to be conclusively determined.

Carbon nanotubes and buckeyballs are equally awesome by the way.

the ultimate torture or assassination device (1)

redshirt (95023) | about 6 months ago | (#46223497)

Re:the ultimate torture or assassination device (1)

Qzukk (229616) | about 6 months ago | (#46225253)

I was thinking more along the lines of http://everything2.com/title/c... [everything2.com] but that works too.

Let me be the first to welcome... (1)

dlingman (1757250) | about 6 months ago | (#46223545)

Our ultrasonic powered grey goo overlords.

It would be cool if... (1)

breandan7 (1979910) | about 6 months ago | (#46225511)

this could be used to cure cancer.

Stephenson's ahead of the curve ... again (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46226865)

Sounds like Neal Stephenson's Cookie-Cutters are a perfect application...

Stephenson's ahead of the curve ... again (1)

ahowe42 (3534549) | about 5 months ago | (#46226875)

Sounds like Neal Stephenson's Cookie-Cutters are a perfect application!

Tiny Motors? You mean... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#46230973)

Gray Death
http://deusex.wikia.com/wiki/Gray_Death

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