A tiny ‘nanosyringe’ has transplanted mitochondria between living cells, a breakthrough that could have applications in stem cell rejuvenation and the study of cells.

Researchers at ETH Zurich in Switzerland used a nanosyringe that was specially developed for the study.

The position of the cylindrical nanosyringe was controlled by laser light from a converted atomic force microscope. A pressure regulator adjusted the flow, allowing scientists to transfer incredibly small volumes of fluid in the femtolitre range – millionths of a millionth of a millilitre – during transplants of the organelles, which are responsible for energy production in cells.

The researchers pierced the cell membrane and sucked up the spherical mitochondria, before piercing the membrane of a different cell and pumping the mitochondria out of the nanosyringe and into the recipient cell.

“Both the donor and acceptor cells survive this minimally invasive procedure,” said Christoph Gäbelein, lead author of a paper on the project.

The transplanted mitochondria had a survival rate of more than 80%. In most cells, the injected mitochondria began to fuse with the filamentous network of the new cell 20 minutes after transplantation.

The research will have applications in various areas in future, the team said. Led by Julia Vorholt at the Institute of Microbiology, they said the technique could be used to rejuvenate stem cells, which exhibit a decline in metabolic activity as they age. The team currently aims to understand the processes that control how different cell compartments co-operate, and to unravel how endosymbiosis develops.

The work was published in PLOS Biology.

Extracted from Professional Engineering

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