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44 BIOTECHNOLOGY


cells often used in heart-regeneration research – were able to ingest and store the nanoparticles without losing any of their ability to survive, replicate and differentiate into living heart cells.


Upon infusing the imaging-agent- loaded stem cells from mice, pigs or humans into the hearts of healthy mice, the scientists could watch the cells via ultrasound after they left the needle tip and, therefore, better direct them to the targeted area of the heart wall. Two weeks later, the team could still get a strong MRI signal from the cells.


Te technique is described in a study published on 20 March in Science Translational Medicine.


Testing the new imaging method in humans is probably three to five years off, say the team.


Microbial nanowires When researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst led by microbiologist Derek Lovley


discovered that the bacterium Geobacter sulfurreducens conducts electricity very effectively along metallic-like ‘microbial nanowires’, it was a shock to conventional biochemical wisdom.


“It goes against all that we are taught about biological electron transfer, which usually involves electrons hopping from one molecule to another,” Lovley says.


“So it wasn’t enough for us to demonstrate that the microbial nanowires are conductive and to show with physics the conduction mechanism, we had to determine the impact of this conductivity on the biology.”


“We have now identified key components that make these hair- like pili we call nanowires conductive and have demonstrated their importance in the biological electron transport. Tis time we relied more on genetics. I think most biologists are more comfortable with genetics rather than physics,” Lovley adds.


Te ability of protein filaments to conduct electrons in this way not only has ramifications for scientists’ basic understanding of natural microbial processes but practical implications for environmental clean-up and the development of renewable energy sources as well, he adds.


Cleaning groundwater Lovley’s UMass Amherst lab has already been working with US federal agencies and industry to use Geobacter to clean up groundwater contaminated with radioactive metals or petroleum and to power electronic monitoring devices with current generated by the microbe.


His group has also recently shown that Geobacter uses its nanowires to feed electrons to other microorganisms that can produce methane gas.


Tis is an important step in the conversion of organic wastes to methane, which can then be burned to produce electricity.


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