People often state that the climatic conditions of certain planets do not support the existence of life. However, a team of Swiss scientists from Ecole polytechnique federale de lausne (EPFL) research center have developed an extremely sensitive motion sensor that is capable of detecting even the tiniest movements exhibited by microscopic organisms on distant planets.
Up until now, space probes such as Philae Lander, have been attempting to discover alien life by sniffing out their signatures. However this incredibly sensitive laserpowered nanosensor has proven accurate with detecting bacteria, yeast, and even cancer cells.
Professor Giovanni Longo at the EPFL said that the nanomotion detector helps exploring life from a new perspective: All living objects exhibit movement. This means that the nanomotion sensor can detect any tiniest movements of microscopic forms and deliver a complementary point of view in the search for life.
Professor Longo and his team have designed this device that is smaller than a millimeter- just a few hundred microns in length. One micron is equal to 1000 nanometers or the thickness of a red blood cell. Most bacteria measure 1 to 10 micrometers long and the sensor is basically a 200-micron-long cantilever meaning it can accept about 500 bacteria. The device was tested with a variety of living things including E.coli, yeast, as well as human, plant and mice cells in the lab. When the stuff was deposited on the cantilever, it produced an increase in the amplitude of the measured fluctuations.
Scientists were able to manipulate the movements of the living objects by adding nutrients which the cells would consume, or adding chemicals that would kill them. Dietler said the technology can also be used for drug testing. For example, cancer cells could be deposited on the cantilever and a cancer drug introduced to them – if the cells’ minute vibrations stop, it means that the drug has killed them off.
The scientists are waiting to demo their device for ESA and NASA and if they can manage to help cure cancer, they can be used to discover extreme life forms in areas that are hard to detect on Earth, such as volcanoes and the ocean floor.
SOURCE: PNAS (paywall)