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Genes & Cells

How nanotubes trigger a cell’s gag reflex, the skulking 1918 flu and more in this week’s news

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11:23am, September 23, 2011

Carbon nanotubes choke cells
Carbon nanotubes and asbestos fibers may seem small, but they can be a big, and deadly, deal to cells. Now researchers at Brown University in Providence, R.I. know why. Cells swallow the long fibers tip-first, the researchers report online September 18 in Nature Nanotechnology. Rounded tips on the fibers cause the cell’s machinery to gear up for swallowing a sphere. Once the cell has begun engulfing the tube it’s too late to stop, and the cell essentially chokes. Snipping off the rounded tips caused the tubes to lie flat on the cell surface, leading the researchers to speculate that modifying the ends of such fibers could make them safer. —Tina Hesman Saey

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