Cells might be tiny, but the advent of nanotechnology is making them ever more accessible to science. Researchers have designed a minute light-emitting device, or nanobeam, which can be inserted into live cells, rather like a radiotransmitter implanted under an animal’s skin. This human cell has been pierced by the nanobeam on the left; the grid-like structure outside the cell is the handle to which the probe is attached. The beam can also be fully injected inside a cell, which then continues to grow and divide as normal, with one daughter cell inheriting the nanobeam at each division. By following the light it emits, scientists can track the cell’s movements and identify its descendants. The beam can also be modified to detect the presence of specific molecules. With a host of potential applications, this technology is opening up a whole new world of cellular exploration.
Written by Emmanuelle Briolat