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Nanomotors Steered Inside Living Human Cells For the First Time

A group of researchers from Penn State have pushed the realm of possibilities for nanotechnology further as they have successfully steered a nanomotor inside of a human cell. This is the first time this feat has been accomplished. The team of chemists, biologist, and engineers was led by Tom Mallouk and has been published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition. The researchers used HeLa cells, derived from a long-lived line of cervical cancer cells, to study the nanomotors. Getting past the cell membrane was easy, as the cells ingested the nanomotors themselves. Once inside, the ultrasound was turned on and the nanomotors began to spin and move around the cell. If the signal was turned up even higher, the nanomotor can spin like a propeller, chopping up the organelles inside the cell. They were even able to puncture the cell membrane, finishing off the death sentence. Used at low powers, the nanomotor was able to move around the cell without causing any damage.

Nanomotors have been studied in vitro more more than a decade now. The hope is that eventually, they could be used inside of human cells for biomedical research. This nanotechnology could revolutionize drug delivery and even perform surgery in order to increase quality of life in the least invasive way possible. The earliest models were nonfunctional in biological fluid due to their fuel source. A huge breakthrough came later when the nanomotors were able to be powered externally via acoustic waves. The nanomotors used inside the human cells for the latest study were controlled by the ultrasonic waves as well as magnets.  The addition of magnets gave an important advantage: steering. The motors are also able to be controlled individually, allowing the operator to take a much more targeted approach to killing diseased cells.  Ultimately, the researchers hope that one day the rocket-shaped gold nanorods will be able to move in an out of the cells without causing damage. The individual units could communicate with one another to target disease in the body, maximizing the efficacy of the treatment or even making the correct diagnosis. Working toward the goal of creating such advanced nanotechnology will not only push the boundaries of nanoengineering, but will increase our understanding of chemical and biological processes at the cellular level as well.

Canada is home to Burgess Shale: an expansive fossil field that contains a diverse array of preserved organisms dating all the way back to the Middle Cambrian, 505 million years ago. There are two well-known sites: one in the Yoho National Park and another 42 km (26 miles) away at Kootenay National Park. Another site has been discovered in Kootenay and could be the richest fossil site ever discovered. The announcement comes from lead author Jean-Bernard Caron of the University of Toronto and was published in Nature Communications. The fossils discovered at this site have much to teach us about the Cambrian Explosion, which is when life first really began to diversify. Prior to the Cambrian life on Earth had been relatively simple. Among the arthropod species represented are some that had only been seen before in the Chengjiang fossil beds in China. Because fossils from that site represent the early Cambrian about 10 million years prior, it gives new insight to the global range of certain ancient animals and helps to establish a timeline of how long the species lived. The site also confirms that Pikaia, which was first discovered at the Yoho site in 1911 and looks quite similar to a modern lancet, is the common ancestor of all vertebrates.
Burgess Shale was discovered in 1909 and is world-renowned for its exceptionally well-preserved fossils. Over the last century of thorough exploration, there have been about  200 different species identified. This new site, dubbed “Marble Canyon,” just might put that figure to shame. Researchers have only been digging at the site for 15 days but already more than 50 species have been identified – including some entirely new species. Thousands of specimens have been uncovered, a large number of which appear to be arthropods.  Currently, the exact location of the new fossil site within the park has not been released, as the Canadian park officials wish to keep it free from visitors for the moment. The researchers have stated that they are eager for summer to return so that they may continue their field work. Though time and more excavation will ultimately tell the full importance of this new Burgess Shale site, the preliminary numbers indicate that it is well on its way to becoming one of the most important fossil site discoveries in the world.
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