World’s smallest sensor measures growth force of plants, animals and humans

  • Researchers experimented with a combination of laser technology and chemical knowledge, coming up with a sensor consisting of one single molecule that is a few hundred times more accurate than existing devices used to measure nano-forces on the molecular level.
  • The force measured in one molecule can be compared with the force of one grain of sand pressing down on a person’s shoulder.
  • Using the new measuring method, it is possible to gain more insight into the forces that are active on a molecular level in the living cells of plants, animals and humans.
  • The miniscule forces determine when a cell divides and in which direction. So ultimately these mechanical stimuli determine how the plant embryo develops; but until now it wasn’t possible to measure this.
  • Taking these kinds of sensitive, small-scale measurements is not possible using a large measuring device in a cell.
  • The researchers therefore created molecules that themselves act as measuring devices; each of the molecular sensors made by the team works as a nano-force metre.
  • To ‘read’ the molecule and determine the force, the researchers shine a laser on one molecule.
  • This molecule returns the light in a different shade, allowing the research team to determine the amount of force.
  • Crucially, therefore, the method does not only consist of a new molecule or a new instrument, but of a combination of the two.

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