The world’s most precise scale can measure the exact weight of individual cells

Want to know the weight of life? European researchers have invented a smart scale that’s capable of measuring the exact weight of individual cells, in the region of just a couple of nanograms each.

can be pretty darn accurate if you want to check whether you’ve gained a pound or two now that summer’s over and we’re spending less time outside. Something they’re not so good for? Measuring the weight of individual cells, the building blocks that human life is made of, which usually weigh in the vicinity of two or three nanograms. Fortunately, researchers from ETH Zurich, the University of Basel, and University College London have invented a solution: a custom, ultra sensitive scientific scale specifically designed for this task.

“[We have developed] a device that allows, for the first time, researchers to watch the mass of single or multiple cells in real time,” Martínez Martín-David, the scale’s inventor, told Digital Trends. “To do that, a cell is picked up by a microscopic finger known as a cantilever. This microscopic finger oscillates in the atomic scale, stimulated by an intensity modulated blue laser, and the frequency of that movement contains the information about the cell’s mass. The movement of the microscopic finger is detected by using an infrared laser.”

So far, the scale has been used to observe natural phenomena, such as the way that mammalian cells fluctuate mass by around 1 to 4 percent in mere seconds as a way of regulating their total weight. The technology also allows for the manipulation of single cells, which the researchers have been using to infect individual cells with viruses, with the goal of developing new antiviral strategies.

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