Researchers from Sandia National Laboratories and the University of New Mexico have created mammalian cells that may function better after they die by coating a cell with a silica solution to form a replica of its structure, a process that is so near-perfect that it preserves the cell down to the miniscule grooves of the DNA. By using the cell as a sort of living mold, scientists can create a structure that looks the same as the previously living cell but is able to survive more severe temperatures and pressures than the flesh ever could, including performing some functions even better than when the cells were still alive. Are you freaked out yet?
The process begins fairly simply: “Take some free-floating mammalian cells, put them in a petri dish and add silicic acid. The silicic acid, for reasons still partially unclear, enters without clogging and in effect embalms every organelle in the cell from the micro- to the nanometer scale.”
They go on from there: “By heating the silica to relatively low heat (400 C), the organic material of the cell — its protein — evaporates and leaves the silica in a kind of three-dimensional Madame Tussauds wax replica of a formerly living being. The difference is that instead of modeling the face, say, of a famous criminal, the hardened silica-based cells display internal mineralized structures with intricate features ranging from nano- to millimeter-length scales.”
Imagine the scientific uses for something like this, from preserving DNA and other cellular structures to creating new energy sources and nanostructures. The potential for great scientific leaps are there.
According to lead researcher Bryan Kaehr, “King Tut was mummified to approximately resemble his living self, but the process took place without mineralization (a process of fossilization). Our zombie cells bridge chemistry and biology to create forms that not only near-perfectly resemble their past selves, but can do future work.”
Science creating zombies just goes to show us that it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of a virus. The scariest thing about this is the potential effects on organisms on a larger scale or the potential for creating a virus that cannot be destroyed. At this point it requires human action for creation, but what happens when this process is used more frequently or finds a way to replicate itself on its own? The science is cool and has many potential uses, but the potential for backfiring is also great. Be careful, science!