'Zombie' cells beat live counterparts in performance

Last Updated: Fri, Feb 22, 2013 08:50 hrs

London, Feb 22 (IANS) Zombies or the walking dead, a concept popularised by Hollywood, have just been reborn as 'zombie cells' in the lab -- and unlike the movie version, they perform long after they are dead, says a new study.

Scientists found that by coating organic cells in silicic acid they could make these zombies better able to tolerate far greater temperatures and pressures than flesh.

The technique, developed by researchers from Sandia National Labs and the University of New Mexico, both in the US, paves the way for preservation of valuable biological material by 'converting it into a fossil.'

They believe the zombie cells could have applications in manufacturing, including fuel cells or sensor technology and may be the future of nanotechnology, the Daily Mail reports.

"It's very challenging for researchers to build structures at a nanometer scale. We can make particles and wires, but 3-D arbitrary structures haven't been achieved yet," Bryan Kaehr, who led the study, was quoted as saying.

"With this technique, we don't need to build those structures - nature does it for us," Kaehr added.

The living cells are painted with the acid in a petri dish and the silica solution then forms a replica down to the most minute detail.

Kaehr said the process means the cells can carry on 'working' even after they are dead.

"By being able to survive extreme pressures and temperatures, the zombie cells can perform some functions better than when they were alive," said Michael Hess at the American Office of Public Affairs.

He said by heating the silica to 400 degrees Celsius, the organic part of the cell is evaporated and the solution is kept as a "three-dimensional Madame Tussauds wax replica of a formerly living being".

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