Animal cells can be used as templates to create 'zombie cells' made of silica. For the full story, read this article.
Zombie cells: nanosculptureEdit
Scientists led by Bryan Kaehr at Sandia National Laboratories are using silica nanosculptures of animal cells to learn more about cell architecture and performance. To do this, cells are coated in silicic acid, which permeates the entire cell and its structures. The cells are then heated to 400 °C to evaporate the organic material and cure the silica. "Early stage" cells that have been heated this way then require a gold coating to be visualized with a scanning electron microscope (SEM). Advanced or "final stage" cells that have been heated up to 900 °C without oxygen produce a reverse mold made of carbon (the organic material soot) and silica. These final stage cells can be directly visualized with SEM without gold coating because carbon is conductive. And the results are astonishing.
At high enough mangification, architectural details down to curves of DNA will become visible. These cells can also withstand greater temperatures and pressures than their simple living couterparts, earning them the title of 'zombie cells.' Scientists hope this technique can be adapted to grow customized shapes of nanotechnology and that these cells will also be useful in fuel cells and sensors. Biologists and artists will now also have greater access to the awe inspiring design of living cells.