Any news story that is able to throw in the highly marketable "zombie" term won't miss the chance. In this case it might actually apply - you decide.
Researchers in Albuquerque NM have come up with an alchemy that breathes more power into dead mammal cells. These super undead cells can survive conditions that living organisms cannot, making them highly favorable for study versus typical "mummified" or preserved dead specimens.
Scientists from Sandia National Laboratories in partnership with University of New Mexico processed living cells in a Petri dish and coated them with silicic acid solution that acts like an embalming fluid, penetrating even the nano-parts of the cells. It forms a "permeable armor" that can withstand tests above 750 degrees Fahrenheit and high pressure.
After the heat treatment, the protein boundaries around and within the cell (organic material) evaporate leaving the silica as a perfect mold or replica of the former living being, like a wax museum exhibit. But it's not just a surface mold - the silicic acid permeates everything down to the last intricate nano part.
So what are they creating? Fossils? In a sense, yes. And one that can be studied and shelved possibly forever unlike dead cells. They called it a reverse molding and compared it to wood that burns and leaves ash mold, but, instead, this mold is a highly viable replica. "Such materials would have substantial utility in fuel cells, decontamination and sensor technologies," they wrote. Scientist Bryan Kaehr made the (possibly first ever) distinction between a mummy and zombie cell:
King Tut was mummified -- to approximately resemble his living self, but the process took place without mineralization [a process of fossilization]. Our zombie cells bridge chemistry and biology to create forms that not only near-perfectly resemble their past selves, but can do future work. [emphasis added]While it is a scientific breakthrough (it allows scientists to kill and revive mammal cells as opposed to recreate the same structures) -- what do you say? Can these preserved cells constitute "zombie-ism"? Are they really undead? The researchers involved definitely call them "zombie replicants" and emphasize that they "outperform the living."
Is this decade's zombie fascination a matter of target-marketing? Making science sexy? Or a predictive ushering in of something more?
Read other articles by Amanda Warren