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In the Balance
12 December 2017

In the Balance

A structure used in the building of canyon-spanning bridges has been transformed by a collaboration of physicists and biologists into a tiny set of scales that can weigh individual cells. These scales are incredibly precise, detecting weight changes that are one trillion times smaller than a rivet. A cell is balanced near the edge of a long beam, called a cantilever, which is anchored at the opposite end. This device allows the moment-to-moment changes in a cell’s weight to be tracked in minute detail. It could help understand how a cell’s internal physiology changes during diseases such as cancer or in response to drug treatments. To test it out, the team weighed a cell before and after infection with a virus. At first, the scales detected cell growth and a gradual increase in mass. But after infection this growth was halted as the virus began to hijack the cell’s resources.

Written by Deborah Oakley

Research published in Nature, October 2017

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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