Berkeley Research Team Awarded $1 Million Grant

February 26, 2014

Endowing Cells With a Magnetic Personality

Arash KomeiliBy Karyn Houston
Plant & Microbial Biology

Some bacteria make their own tiny magnets to navigate the oceans. But these tiny compasses also show up beautifully in 3-D magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, inspiring UC Berkeley scientists to use them to track the movement of cells in the body or molecules within cells. Most of this tracking is done by a labeling process employing a green fluorescent protein (GFP) but that methods has its limitations as it is only useful for looking at cells on the body surface or inside transparent embryos.

However, with a $1 million high-risk, high-reward grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation, a team of UC Berkeley researchers including Arash Komeili, an associate professor in Plant and Microbial Biology, plans to implant the relevant genes from magnetotactic bacteria into mammalian cells so they can make their own magnets which will ultimately help scientists explore how tumors spread, immune cells find pathogens, and brain cells degenerate.