Gene that magnetically labels cells shows potential as imaging tool

Jun 03, 2008

Mammalian cells can produce tiny magnetic nuggets after the introduction of a single gene from bacteria, scientists have found. The gene MagA could become a valuable tool for tracking cells' movement through the body via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), says Xiaoping Hu, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering at Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

"We have found a very simple way to make mammalian cells have a magnetic signature," says Hu, who is director of Emory's Biomedical Imaging Technology Center and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar.

The results are published in the June issue of Magnetic Resonance in Medicine.

The gene MagA comes from magnetotactic bacteria, which can sense the Earth's magnetic field. It encodes a protein that transports dissolved iron across cell membranes. When put into animal cells, MagA triggers the accumulation of lumps of magnetite (iron oxide) a few nanometers wide, making the cells prominently visible under magnetic resonance imaging.

Although Hu's team tested MagA's effects in human kidney cells, Hu says it will probably be most useful in transgenic animals. He and his colleagues found that MagA appears to be nontoxic.

"MagA can be thought of as the equivalent of green fluorescent protein, but for magnetic resonance imaging," he says.

Scientists around the world use green fluorescent protein, originally found in jellyfish, to map the connections of the nervous system or follow the migration of stem cells around the body, for example. Hu says he anticipates that MagA could find similar applications, with the advantage that magnetic fields can penetrate tissues more easily than light.

Source: Emory University

Explore further: Researchers show that A3 adenosine receptor can activate 'off signals' for pain

Related Stories

The microscopic topography of ink on paper

58 minutes ago

A team of Finnish scientists has found a new way to examine the ancient art of putting ink to paper in unprecedented 3-D detail. The technique could improve scientists' understanding of how ink sticks to ...

Harvesting energy from electromagnetic waves

58 minutes ago

For our modern, technologically-advanced society, in which technology has become the solution to a myriad of challenges, energy is critical not only for growth but also, more importantly, survival. The sun ...

Scientists hold breath for comet lander to wake

1 hour ago

Europe's comet lander Philae has remained obstinately silent since a new bid was launched to communicate with it, mission chiefs said Tuesday, but chances for contact were improving daily.

Recommended for you

Bacteria play only a minor role stomach ulcers in cattle

13 hours ago

Scientists at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna investigated whether stomach ulcers in cattle are related to the presence of certain bacteria. For their study, they analysed bacteria present in ...

New research reveals how our skeleton is a lot like our brain

15 hours ago

Researchers from Monash University and St Vincent's Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne have used mathematical modelling combined with advanced imaging technology to calculate, for the first time, the number and connectivity ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.