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Cells snack on nanowires

Phagocytosis draws in silicon strands, opening possible route to bioelectronics

2:00pm, December 16, 2016

REACH OUT AND TOUCH  A membrane tendril stretches from a human cell to wrap around a silicon nanowire — the start of phagocytosis, this scanning electron microscopy image suggests.

Human cells can snack on silicon.

Cells grown in the lab devour nano-sized wires of silicon through an engulfing process known as phagocytosis, scientists report December 16 in Science Advances.

Silicon-infused cells could merge electronics with biology, says John Zimmerman, a biophysicist now at Harvard University. “It’s still very early days,” he adds, but “the idea is to get traditional electronic devices working inside of cells.” Such hybrid devices could one day help control cellular behavior, or even replace electronics used for deep brain stimulation, he says.

Scientists have been trying to load electronic parts inside cells for years. One way is to zap holes in cells with electricity, which lets big stuff, like silicon nanowires linked to bulky materials, slip in. Zimmerman, then at the University of Chicago, and colleagues were looking for a simpler

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