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Scientists weigh life



Researchers at the University of Basel and University College London have created a scale that can measure life. The scale, which can measure the mass of single cells lets and them “monitor how their weight changes over time … with a resolution of milliseconds and trillionths of a gram.”

This means they can weigh a cell the instant it dies, finding definitely the mass of life.

The cells, which usually weigh about two to three nanograms, are weighed under controlled conditions in a cell culture chamber. The weighing arm, a tiny wafer-thin, transparent silicon cantilever coated with collagen or fibronectin, is lowered to the floor of the chamber, where it nudges and picks up a cell. “The cell hangs on the underside of a tiny cantilever for the measurements,” says doctoral student Gotthold Fläschner, who co-invented and conducted most experiments using the new scale.

This system let the researchers Christoph Gerber, Jason Mercer, and Sascha Martin see that cells exhibit second-to-second weight fluctuations while alive but these fluctuations stop when they die. In short, they can measure the weight of life pulsing through a cell.

“We established that the weight of living cells fluctuates continuously by about one to four percent as they regulate their total weight,” said Martínez-Martín. “We’re seeing things that nobody else has yet observed.”

To be clear this can’t weigh a human before or after death. To do that you need Sean Penn and Naomi Watts.



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