A recent study published by the public library of science suggests that magnetism can be induced in most any cell type, which has implications both in research and medicine. As Keiji Nishida and Pamela A. Silver, of the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School and the Wyss Institute of Biological Inspired Engineering, Harvard University, report, they first observed cell magnetization by the attraction towards a magnet of the normally diamagnetic yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae that had been grown with ferric citrate. This magnetization could be further enhanced by genetic modification and the introduction of ferritin, which enabled cells to be attracted to a magnet and trapped by a magnetic column.
According to the authors, magnetism is a unique physical property, and since magnetic interactions can be contactless, remote and permeable, the integration of magnetic properties into biological systems could benefit bioengineering and therapy. Magnetism also has other basic research applications, including producing bio-compatible magnetic nanoparticles, which could serve as possible delivery systems.
Further, the authors showed that the target of rapamycin complex 1 (TORC1) signaling, which responds to nutritional signals, is important for magnetizing cells by altering the intracellular oxidation (or redox) state, and that the genes involved in carbon metabolism affect magnetization. They therefore propose that local redox control, mediated by carbon metabolism and iron homeostasis—processes that exist in normal unmagnetized cells, are key for iron particle formation and magnetization, and that magnetization of normal cells could be possible with these existing gene sets.
Beyond the potential for magnetizing cells, however, perhaps this connection between intracellular oxidation and TORC1 signaling may suggest an interesting target for antioxidant studies, for future application in personal care.