Magazine article Science News

Bitty Beasts of Burden: Algae Can Carry Cargo

Magazine article Science News

Bitty Beasts of Burden: Algae Can Carry Cargo

Article excerpt

For thousands of years, people have been coaxing other creatures into doing chores. Now, a team of scientists has microsized the strategy. They've devised a way to make single-cell algae bear loads over distances of several centimeters--a tactic that the researchers say could prove useful in tiny machines.

Algae and other single-celled organisms power their movements with molecular motors. Scientists have long coveted these motors for use in micromachinery, notes chemist Douglas B. Weibel of Harvard University.

However, pulling the devices from cells and modifying them to work with lab-derived machinery would require sophisticated bioengineering techniques. To avoid that hurdle, Weibel and other scientists led by George M. Whitesides of Harvard tried something simpler. The team recruited entire organisms, leaving their motors in place.

The researchers harnessed algae of the species Chlamydomonas reinhardtii to transport tiny beads. First, the scientists engineered a molecule to have two sticky ends and a middle section that breaks apart when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays. One end of the molecule adheres to polystyrene, and the other to an alga's cell wall. The team used the engineered molecule to coat beads made of polystyrene plastic.

The algae, which convert sunlight to biochemical energy, tend to travel toward visible light. Whitesides' team placed a few algae at one end of a thin, straight track cut into a polymer-coated glass plate. …

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