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Home > News > Improving the tools for single-cell nanosurgery

January 16th, 2007

Improving the tools for single-cell nanosurgery

Nanosurgery holds the promise of studying or manipulating and repairing individual cells without damaging the cell. For instance, nanosurgery could remove or replace certain sections of a damaged gene inside a chromosome; sever axons to study the growth of nerve cells; or destroying an individual cell without affecting the neighboring cells. While the cell nucleus has been transplanted between cells during cloning using micropipette technologies, these methods are too crude for other subcellular structures. First steps towards nanosurgery have been made using so-called 'optical tweezers', where the energy of laser light is used to trap and manipulate nanoscale objects, for instance the nucleus of a cell, without mechanical contact. Combined with a laser scalpel (use of lasers for cutting and ablating biological objects) optical tweezers have been used to study cell fusion, DNA-cutting, etc. Unfortunately, while optical tweezers offer exquisite sensitivity in their ability to position micro- and nanoparticles, they suffer from one important disadvantage: the trapped particle is localized at the laser focus where light intensity is the highest. As a result, the laser light used to trap a particle also has a propensity to photobleach and photodamage the particle, especially when the particle is fragile and small (e.g., a subcellular organelle that is fluorescently labeled). Minimizing this drawback, new research describes the use of polarization-shaped optical vortex traps for the manipulation of particles and subcellular structures.


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