Bacteria used to create nanomagnets

10 May 2012

Posted by Satvir Bhullar

Scientists in the UK have used bacteria to create a series of nanomagnets that could be used in the future to construct computers with faster connections and more storage.

According to the team from the University of Leeds, the bacterium "eats" iron, creating a magnetic surface within itself similar to that found in hard drives and wiring.

Proteins inside the bacteria collect, shape and position magnets inside their cells and the team has found a way to replicate this outside a bacterium, Magnetospirilllum magneticum.

The bacterial builders could also be used to create more environmentally-friendly electronics and reduce the costs of constructing computer technology using magnetite nanocrystals.

Based at the University of Leeds School of Physics and Astronomy, the researchers are led by Dr Sarah Staniland and have been working with colleagues at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology.

"The machines we've traditionally used to build them are clumsy at such small scales. Nature has provided us with the perfect tool to circumvent this problem," explained Dr Staniland.

Experiments are now being carried out to see if there is a way of reducing the size of islands of magnets to create single nanomagnets or varying the materials that can be controlled using the protein.

Nanoscience techniques have also been employed by experts from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore to develop a miniaturized biochip that could provide vital information about the effects of drugs on cancer stem cells.

Writing in the journal Nano Today, the team revealed the data collected by the Droplet Array could be used to screen drugs faster and more easily, potentially leading to improvements in the efficacy and better eradication of cancer stem cells.

"The Droplet Array marks a significant breakthrough in nanotechnology and lab-on-a-chip concepts, and provides an efficient platform for accelerating drug screening and development," explained Professor Jackie Y Ying.

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