How do you know a cell has a fever? Take its temperature.
That’s now possible thanks to research by Rice University scientists who used the light-emitting properties of particular molecules to create a fluorescent nano-thermometer.
The Rice lab of chemist Angel Martí revealed the technique in a Journal of Physical Chemistry Bpaper (“Sensing Temperature in Vitro and in Cells Using a BODIPY Molecular Probe”), describing how it modified a biocompatible molecular rotor known as boron dipyrromethene (BODIPY, for short) to reveal temperatures inside single cells.
The molecule is ideally suited to the task. Its fluorescence lasts only a little while inside the cell, and the duration depends heavily on changes in both temperature and the viscosity of its environment. But at high viscosity, the environment in typical cells, its fluorescence lifetime depends on temperature alone.
It means that at a specific temperature, the light turns off at a particular rate, and that can be seen with a fluorescence-lifetime imaging microscope.
Martí said colleagues at Baylor College of Medicine challenged him to develop the technology. “Everybody knows old thermometers based on the expansion of mercury, and newer ones based on digital technology,” he said.
“But using those would be like trying to measure the temperature of a person with a thermometer the size of the Empire State Building.”

Image Credit:  Rice University


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