Materials science: Noodly appendages

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Cited research: Nature Mater. doi:10.1038/NMAT2778 (2010)

Chemists have cooked up bundles of nanometre-scale fibres that not only stretch and bend, but can be packed alongside cells.

Samuel Stupp and his colleagues at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, created the noodle-like material (pictured left) by heating and then cooling peptide suspensions. Living cells could be embedded in the stringy matrix (right), from which individual strings could then be teased out using a pipette and salty solution. This offers an advantage over 'electrospinning' methods of nanofibre formation, in which the high electrical or mechanical energies involved would kill cells.

The authors showed that stem cells elongated preferentially along the direction of the fibres, and that the noodles also allowed heart cells to propagate electrical signals as if in a wire. The material could be a useful scaffold for medical researchers. E.H.

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