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Seeing the light

Researchers have developed a "smart petri dish" that signals cell death with intense light. The system could find use in screening drugs for toxic effects.

Rather than growing cells in a plastic dish, Michael J. Sailor of the University of California, San Diego and his colleagues use a photonic crystal, which is a silicon chip that controls the propagation of light. The chip they designed prevents red light from passing through, so when exposed to a light source, the chips reflect red light back.

The researchers grew liver cells on the dime-size chips. The cells act "like little lighthouses," says Sailor, scattering the light from the chip in many directions, such that the cells glow a dim red.

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