The ‘living’ gel that walks by itself

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iol scitehc nov 12 cancer cells AP File photo: The research, led by Jeremy Price of Icahn School of Medicine in New York, has ignited a debate among experts over the treatment.

London - Scientists have created a blob of gel that can propel itself across a surface, mimicking a living creature.

The tiny droplets are made in a laboratory from proteins extracted from living cells.

They feed on the same energy-carrying molecules found in living bodies, allowing the gel to “walk” at a rate of 8 nanometres each step – less than the width of a speck of tobacco smoke.

Scientists say that the droplets could be used to deliver drugs or target cancer cells. As the gel is made from biological material, it is less likely the body will reject it.

First, scientists have to succeed in controlling its movement accurately. So far, researchers have only been able influence how long the droplets stay in motion and the way they churn.

The gel can also self-heal, so it could help make liquid crystal displays – used in laptops and flat-screen televisions, watches and microwave ovens – more robust. The US research was published in the online journal, Nature.

Zvonimir Dogic of Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, who worked on the project, said the mobile gel is not a spooky Halloween trick, but an engineered example of “active matter”.

“This is a little bit of a Frankenstein experiment,” Professor Dogic told New Scientist.

“We’re taking biological materials and putting them together to make totally new materials.”

The research revealed that creating drops of the active gel about 30 to 100 micrometres (0.03 to 0.1mm) across resulted in movement that resembled cells crawling across a microscope slide. “It mimics a little bit what might happen in a living system,” said biomaterials expert Professor Cristina Marchetti, of Syracuse University in New York. - Daily Mail

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