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Nanodevices can be injected into live cells to track internal changes.

A minuscule part of the body possessing immense power, the intracellular forces inside our cells have been shown to control cell function, and by extension, the body’s systems. The physical forces inside a cell have been linked to the regulation of a wide variety of biological processes, including cell proliferation, the shape of the organism, tissue homeostasis as well as immunity. However, intracellular mechanics are difficult to study directly and are poorly understood. Now, a study from researchers at the University of Bath develops injectable nanoscale tracking devices capable of monitoring the interior of mammalian cells, providing unprecedented access to the processes governing the beginning of embryonic development. The team states their trial involving one-cell mouse embryos is set to greatly innovate the biophysics underpinning intracellular behavior, proffering insights into the pathology of disease in old-age. The study is published in the journal Nature Materials.

Previous studies show the physical forces exerted by the cellular interior determines overall cell functions. The behavior of intracellular matter is hypothesized to be as influential to cell behavior as gene expression, however, the complex biophysical properties of the material inside a cell are largely unstudied. As a result, it has not been possible to identify how this inner ecosystem behaves as a whole entity. The current study successfully injects a silicon-based nanodevice together with sperm into a mouse ovum, resulting in a healthy, fertilized egg containing a tracking device.

The current study develops spider-like nanodevices with eight flexible legs to measure forces such as gravity, friction, and pressure exerted in the cell interior to reveal how intracellular matter rearranges itself over time. The internal cellular movements and physical states are measured via video taken through a microscope as the embryos develop. Results show these nanobots successfully measured naturally programmed forces and changes to the cytoplasm, a jelly-like material containing the organelles outside the nucleus, contained within the cell driving the development of a mouse embryo from fertilization through to the first cell division. Data findings show the devices were pitched and twisted by forces even greater than those inside muscle cells, and in contrast, other recordings show little perturbation around the devices indicating the cell interior had become calm.

The lab states their nanodevices reacted to reduced movement in the cell’s cytoplasm during chromosome alignment, with cytoplasmic material stiffening as the embryo lengthened, and rapidly softening during cell division. They go on to add forces greater than those registered in muscle cells were recorded within the embryo, with outcomes suggesting these intracellular physics are part of a set program. They conclude they have provided the very first views of how material moves around and organizes itself within the cell.

The team surmises they have successfully fully internalized nanoscale tracking devices in one-cell embryos, to record physical changes during the earliest stages of development. For the future, the researchers state their nanoscale devices could be used to record how cells age or malfunction to cause diseases, finally gifting the final piece of the cellular systemic puzzle.

Source: University of Bath

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