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The tiny scales that weigh a single living cell

cell one

A tiny scale capable of weighing a single living cell quickly and easily created scientists in Switzerland.

The device can calculate the slightest change in the weight of a cell in real time, in milliseconds and with a precision of trillions of grams.

Until today it was impossible to measure the weight of the basic units of life and how it changes over time, because there was no proper measuring tool.

The breakthrough comes from researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ZTE) in Zurich, led by biophysics professor Daniel Miller, who published in the journal Nature.

pink sphere splashed by green liquid

Laser measurements are used to measure the subtle movements of the cell’s oscillation. The differences between two different measurements allow the mass to be calculated. The displays appear on a computer screen and the weighing can take hours or even days.

The scales can be combined with a fluorescence microscope, allowing scientists to observe and record the biochemical processes inside the cell and how they affect its weight.

Observations so far show that every second the weight of a living cell – usually weighing two to three nanograms (billionths of a gram) – is constantly fluctuating, from 1% to 4%, which stops only with the death of the cell. No one had ever seen such a thing.

The scales may in future help study the pathological mechanisms within a sick cell or the effects of a new drug on the cell. In addition to the field of biomedicine, researchers in the field of new materials can utilize the new device to weigh nanoparticles.

The nanosecond will be manufactured by the Swiss company Nanosurf AG, which holds the relevant technology patent.

round clear glass plate

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