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Gizmorama - December 28, 2016

Good Morning,

Talk about taking it to the next level, scientists have developed a new ultrasound technique that offers a glimpse inside live cells. How did I not see that coming?

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Scientists use synthetic leaf to produce drugs --*

EINDHOVEN, Netherlands - Researchers have found a way to make drugs using a sun-powered artificial leaf. The prototype reactor is inspired by real leaves, which turn sunlight into food through photosynthesis.

Until now, scientists have struggled to catalyze chemical reactions using solar energy alone. Sunlight simply doesn't provide scientists with enough energy to trigger reactions.

But researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology found a nature-inspired workaround made possible by a novel class of materials known as luminescent solar concentrators, or LSCs. Like leaves, the material concentrates sunlight. Instead of directing sunlight to energy centers, the light-sensitive molecules in LSCs convert sunlight into a specific color and conduct it toward its edges.

LSCs are already used to boost the performance of solar cells. Scientists at Eindhoven realized they could be used to trigger chemical reactions. They breakthrough came when researchers married LSCs with microchannels.

Scientists pumped chemicals through tiny channels in the leaf-shaped, silicon rubber LSC, bringing them into contact with the high concentration of light energy and generating a chemical-production reaction.

"Even an experiment on a cloudy day demonstrated that the chemical production was 40 percent higher than in a similar experiment without LSC material," research leader Timothy Noel said in a news release. "We still see plenty of possibilities for improvement. We now have a powerful tool at our disposal that enables the sustainable, sunlight-based production of valuable chemical products like drugs or crop protection agents."

Researchers hope their findings -- detailed in the journal Angewandte Chemie -- will inspire more sustainable and less toxic drug production processes.

"Using a reactor like this means you can make drugs anywhere, in principle, whether malaria drugs in the jungle or paracetamol on Mars," Noel said. "All you need is sunlight and this mini-factory."

*-- New ultrasound technique offers glimpse inside live cells --*

NOTTINGHAM, England - For the first time, scientists have used ultrasound to image the inside of a cell. Researchers at the University of Nottingham bounced shorter-than-optical wavelengths of sound off the insides of cells, producing image detail at nanoscale.

"People are most familiar with ultrasound as a way of looking inside the body -- in the simplest terms we've engineered it to the point where it can look inside an individual cell," researcher Matt Clark said in a news release. "Nottingham is currently the only place in the world with this capability."

Scientists say their breakthrough -- detailed in the journal Scientific Reports -- will allow researchers to observe and measure the structural and mechanical properties of biochemical processes in record detail.

The resolution of optical images is limited by the wavelength of light being used. Details smaller than the wavelength of light can't be imaged, and because ultraviolet light can damage cells, there is an upper limit to the level of detail rendered by optical bioimaging techniques.

Sound waves don't carry intense amounts of energy, and thus shorter wavelengths can be used to image biological processes without causing cell damage.

"A great thing is that, like ultrasound on the body, ultrasound in the cells causes no damage and requires no toxic chemicals to work," added Clark. "Because of this we can see inside cells that one day might be put back into the body, for instance as stem-cell transplants."


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