Scientists create 'zombie' cells (but promise our brains are safe)

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Feb 21, 2013, 3:50 PM EST

When you hear the phrase "zombie cells," does it make you want to start stockpiling food and digging your underground bunker?

Well, don't worry, because while the name might suggests that science is actively working to create the walking dead, weren't not talking about that kind of cells.

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico have developed silica-based replicas of cells that look and even behave like living mammalian tissue, but they're not actually living things. They're dead, but they have many of the characteristics of something that's living. Hence: "zombie cells."

To create the zombies, researchers put silica into the structure of living cells, then heated them. The protein-based material in the cells burned away, but the silica retained the structure. All the living tissue is gone, but some of the functionality remains. And because they're made of silica, the new cells are very durable.

According to Dr. Jeffrey Brinker of the University of New Mexico, the cells held a "robust, three-dimensionally stable form that resists shrinkage even upon heating to over 500 degrees Centigrade (932 degrees Fahrenheit). The refractoriness of these delicate structures is amazing."

So what can we use this application for? Well, the reseachers hope that the zombie technique could be used for all kinds of nanotechnological constructions in the future, from sensors to fuel cells.

"It's very challenging for researchers to build structures at the nanometer scale," said lead researcher Dr. Bryan Kaehr, a materials scientist at Sandia National Laboratories. "We can make particles and wires, but 3-D arbitrary structures haven't been achieved yet. With this technique, we don't need to build those structures -- nature does it for us."

So put away your crossbows. This is a cool new scientific development, but despite the name, zombies aren't coming to get us ... yet.

(Via Huffington Post)