Cells with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads?

Researchers from the University of St. Andrews figure out a way to attach laser lights to cells to make them easier to keep track of. Because they don't make name tags that tiny.

Danny Gallagher
CNET freelancer Danny Gallagher has contributed to Cracked.com, Mental Floss, Maxim, Break.com, Mandatory, Jackbox Games, Geeks Who Drink and many, many other publications in his never-ending quest to bring the world's productivity to a screeching halt. He lives and works in Dallas. Email Danny.
Danny Gallagher
2 min read

Researchers from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland may have found a way to attach tiny lasers to individual cells so they can track them over time. Artist's rendering courtesy of University of St. Andrews

There aren't many universal truths out there in the world, but there is one that stands tall and strong: lasers make everything cooler.

Go ahead. Name something and add at least one laser-shooting device to it and I defy you to tell me that it doesn't make it cooler. Even if you just said the gravestone of a beloved pet, an IRS audit or a Microsoft Zune, I still win.

A group of scientists in Scotland found a way to hook lasers onto cells, but it's not because cells want to put on their own "Laser Floyd" show once in a while.

The University of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland, released a statement on Wednesday announcing the creation of a new biomedical procedure that they say can naturally attach laser lights to cells, making them easier for scientists to track and observe. The study was published on July 17 in the journal Nano Letters.

It was already possible to track cell movement with lasers, but before, the statement explains, the cells had had to be put inside much larger optical resonators. However, new optical micro-resonators are small enough that the cells can actually be encouraged to take them into their own bodies and carry them around.

That means the individual cells that have "swallowed" the optical micro-resonators can emit a green laser light that researchers can track. "In principle, the approach allows barcoding and reliably distinguishing up to several hundred thousand cells simultaneously," they say, which obviously means good things for future research.

"This miniaturization paves the way to applying cell lasers as a new tool in biophotonics. In the future, these new lasers can help us understand important processes in biomedicine," says Malte Gather, a professor at the University of St. Andrews' School of Physics and Astronomy who co-authored the study. "For instance, we may be able to track one by one a large number of cancer cells as they invade tissue or follow each immune cell migrating to a site of inflammation."

This isn't Gather's first foray into lasers and cells. Back in 2011, Gather helped create the first living laser while working at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The process involved implanting DNA from jellyfish in human kidney cells, producing a green beam of light.

I'm hoping this means he's also working on a way to give white blood cells tiny lightsabers so they can hack and slash viruses to death in a mist of blue light.

(Via Science Magazine)

Correction, Monday at 1 p.m. PT: Information on the deployment of the technology was stated incorrectly. The optical micro-resonator is taken in directly by the cells.