Granted, these aren’t your average mics. They’re much smaller – 100,000 times smaller than a human hair!
They were designed to measure the sound of protein chomping on bacteria – a sound that may some day aid in early cancer detection.
How (you may well ask) is this possible?!
Gregory Weiss, a molecular biologist and chemistry professor at the University of California, Irvine, explains that it all started with tears.
THE POWER OF TEARS
Weiss wanted to know how teardrops keep our eyes safe. For over a hundred years, it’s been known that tears have antiseptic enzymes in them, called lysozymes, that destroy potentially-dangerous bacteria.
The question was, how do lysozymes work?
Weiss sought the help of his colleague Phillip Collins, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Irvine, to use sound to analyze the problem.
The hope was that auditory clues would reveal details about how the protein worked, in much the same way that listening to a revving engine gives a mechanic clues about a car’s performance.
Weiss, Collins and their team glued individual lysozymes onto a carbon nanotubes, then attached them to an electric current. This created tiny microphones that allowed scientists to hear protein moving across the surface of bacteria.
They discovered that as it moved, the protein tore tiny holes in the surface of the bacteria. Eventually, there were enough "bites” in the bacteria to create a critical wound that caused the bacteria to explode.
MICS TO THE RESCUE!
Success with this project led to funding by the National Cancer Institute. The team is now testing their new nano-microphone on other proteins. They hope to detect molecules associated with cancer, which could lead to very early detection and faster, more successful treatment.
This article was adapted from the LiveScience article: Teardrops’ Proteins Chomp Bacteria Like Corn on the Cob by Jeanna Bryner.
Elizabeth Holmes is a writer, voice actor, and staff editor at VoiceOverXtra, based in Northern California. She is also editor of VoiceOverXtra's book division, including Voice Over Legal, by voice actor / attorney Robert Sciglimpaglia.
Earlier Sounds Odd Columns: http://bit.ly/SoundsOddColumns
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