Scientists in the UK, have found a simple way to introduce sensors into cells without causing them stress

Calcium sensors are often based on fluorescent dyes, which is a less than perfect technique, often leading to readings that don’t reflect the cell in its natural state. An alternative system is to use Pebbles (Probes encapsulated by biologically localised embedding). The fluorescent dye is then protected by a matrix and cell damage is avoided.

Jonathan Aylott and his team in Nottingham and Hull introduced Pebbles to the cells by a simple and brief incubation step. They attached a synthetic cell-penetrating peptide, based on the regulating HIV-1 Tat protein, to an external sensor matrix. This allowed the sensor to get into the cell without damaging the cell membrane.

Because the cells aren’t stressed by this process, the system has great potential for cell research, and especially in areas like early embryo development and stem cells.

Now that sensors have made it safely into the cell, Aylott says that ’one of the greatest challenges facing this work is the systems used to monitor the signal given by the sensor’.

Carolyn Ackers