Researchers Develop Living Liquid Crystal

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March 18, 2014

Researchers from Ohio's Kent State University and Illinois' Argonne National Laboratory have developed a type of liquid crystal that has the properties of a living organism, which may improve early disease detection.

The substance, which is being called living liquid crystal, is the byproduct of combining swimming bacteria and innovative, water-based, non-toxic liquid crystal. The substance is a biomechanical hybrid and reacts differently to different stimuli, giving researchers hope that it can be used to detect the presence of a disease in the early stages.

The living liquid crystal has the same energy storage capabilities as living organisms, which allows for internal motion of the substance. The unique liquid is also very easy to study from a visual standpoint, as it offers unparalleled clarity under a polarizing microscope. In one instance, researchers were able to clearly see a trail in the liquid substance, resulting from the introduction of 24-nanometer-thick bacterial flagella, which is 1/4000th the thickness of the average strand of human hair.

The researchers found that living liquid crystal acts as a magnifying glass for micro- and nano-scale reactions between molecules and viruses that are not easily detectable. The substance was also found to have varying reactions when exposed to different levels of oxygen, variable temperatures, and various surfaces, a reaction that has the potential for the development of microfluidic biological sensors.

The variability, sensitivity, and clarity of living liquid crystal makes researchers believe the substance may be a good candidate for early disease detection, such as the growth of cancer cells or the presence of an infectious disease in the early stages. Catching a disease in the early stages of infection is more cost effective to manage and more easily treatable.

The study was presented at the 58th annual Biophysical Society Meeting in San Francisco, Calif., in February. Research team members believe the best immediate use for the living liquid crystal is for the improvement of biosensing, but plan to continue studies to discover all the potential uses for the substance within applied science.

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