Researchers are shedding new light on cell biology with the development of a graphene sensor to monitor changes in the mitochondria.
The one-atom-thin layer of carbon sensor is giving researchers a new outlook into the process known as programmed cell death in mitochondria. The mitochondrion, which is found in most cells, has been known as the powerhouse of the cell due to its ability to metabolize and create energy for cells. However, the new researcher out of University of California, Irving shows that that convention wisdom on how cells create energy is only half right.
This from UC Irving:
[Peter] Burke and his colleagues tethered about 10,000 purified mitochondria, separated from their cells, to a graphene sensor via antibodies capable of recognizing a protein in their outer membranes. The graphene’s qualities allowed it to function as a dual-mode sensor; its exceptional electrical sensitivity let researchers gauge fluctuations in the acidity levels surrounding the mitochondria, while its optical transparency enabled the use of fluorescent dyes for the staining and visualization of voltage across the inner mitochondrial membranes.
This ability to measure acidity levels and membrane voltages independently led to two important conclusions. The researchers showed for the first time that the inner and outer membranes of the mitochondria, which are responsible for different functions, are linked to each other’s processes; second, they identified two separate and independent electrochemical gradients where only one had been thought to exist.
Additionally, the researchers found that the mitochondrion plays a secondary role in regulating the cell’s life-death pathway. Burke and his team believe that this knowledge could aid in forcing cancer cells to self-destruct in the future.
“It shows that there is a relationship between the energy and the apoptosis,” Burke says. “Understanding the mitochondrial pathway of apoptosis is important for manipulating various diseases, including cancer. We have created a novel system for assessing functional changes in mammalian mitochondria, but there are still open questions. The graphene sensor tells us [a lot], but we need to develop better tools to investigate how cells process these life/death decisions if we’re ever going to eradicate disease. We need to be able to see the inside of these nanoscale structures to really understand them.”