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  • CNTs Glow in Live Fruit Flies
Sep 2007
HOUSTON, Sept. 25, 2007 -- The first optical images of carbon nanotubes inside a living organism have been captured using a laser, a custom microscope, a camera and hungry fruit flies. It is hoped that the technique will prove useful in disease diagnosis.

Rice University scientists captured the glowing images of DNA-sized carbon nanotubes (CNTs) inside live fruit flies to confirm a near-infrared (NIR) fluorescent imaging technique that was developed at the university.
Scientists (l-r) Kathleen Beckingham, Bruce Weisman and Tonya Leeuw are part of the Rice University team that used fruit flies to capture the first optical images of carbon nanotubes inside a living organism. (Photo: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)
"Carbon nanotubes are much smaller than living cells, and they give off fluorescent light in a way that researchers hope to harness to detect diseases earlier than currently possible," said research co-author Bruce Weisman, professor of chemistry. "In order to do that, we need to learn how to detect and monitor nanotubes inside living tissues, and we must also determine whether they pose any hazards to organisms."

Researchers have studied how CNTs interact with tissues of rabbits, mice and other animals, but Weisman and co-author Kathleen Beckingham, professor of biochemistry and cell biology, chose something smaller -- the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster -- to attempt the first-ever detection of nanotubes inside a living animal.

"Drosophila is one of biology's preeminent model organisms," said Beckingham. "We have a wealth of knowledge about the genetic and biochemical workings of fruit flies, and this presents us with unique opportunities to explore the effects and fate of single-walled carbon nanotubes in a living organism."

In the study, fruit fly larvae were raised on a yeast paste that contained CNTs for 4-5 days. After becoming about 200 times heavier they entered the pupae stage, maturing inside pupal cases and emerging as adult flies.

"Developmentally, the first few days of a fruit fly's life are critical," Beckingham said. "We provided larval flies with a steady diet of food that contained carbon nanotubes and checked their weight just after they emerged from their pupal cases. We found no significant differences in the adult weight of nanotube-fed flies when compared to control groups that were not fed carbon nanotubes."

The nanotube-fed larvae also survived to adulthood just as well as the control group.

Using a custom-built microscope, the team aimed a red laser beam into the fruit flies. This excited a fluorescent glow from the CNTs, as they emitted NIR light of specific wavelengths. The researchers were able to use a special camera to view the glowing nanotubes inside living flies. Videos constructed from these images clearly showed peristaltic movements in the digestive system.

When the researchers removed and examined tissues from the flies, they found the NIR microscope allowed them to see and identify individual nanotubes inside the tissue specimens. The highest concentration of nanotubes was found in the dorsal vessel, which is analogous to a main blood vessel in a mammal. Lesser concentrations were found in the brain, ventral nerve cord, salivary glands, trachea and fat. Based on their assays, the team estimates that only about one in 100 million nanotubes passed through the gut wall and became incorporated into the flies' organs.

Weisman and Beckingham's research, which is available online, appears in the September issue of the American Chemical Society's journal, Nano Letters. A six-second video of glowing nanotubes inside a fly's gut, posted on YouTube, can be viewed here.

The work was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, Rice's Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology, the Alliance for NanoHealth and the Welch Foundation. Co-authors include Tonya Leeuw, Michelle Reith, Rebecca Simonette, Mallory Harden, Paul Cherukuri and Dmitri Tsyboulski.

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In optics, an image is the reconstruction of light rays from a source or object when light from that source or object is passed through a system of optics and onto an image forming plane. Light rays passing through an optical system tend to either converge (real image) or diverge (virtual image) to a plane (also called the image plane) in which a visual reproduction of the object is formed. This reconstructed pictorial representation of the object is called an image.
Pertaining to optics and the phenomena of light.
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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