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The Sound of Cells 111

Alert Slashdot reader jamie pointed out a story in Smithsonian Magazine on the subject of listening to the sounds cells make in order to detect abnormalities.
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The Sound of Cells

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  • Other identifiers (Score:5, Informative)

    by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:18PM (#8882986) Homepage Journal
    From the article: Pelling agrees, and says that he and Gimzewski are doing tests to rule out the possibility that other molecules in the fluid bathing the cells, or even the tip of the microscope itself, are generating vibrations that their probe picks up.

    Even if this is the case, because of a cells small molecular fingerprint or components tend to dictate what role a cell plays or what the status of a cell is on a more discrete time basis that say gene expression, one would wonder if this is not also an identifier of status or identity as well. For more detail on cytosomics or metabolomics, see this [] site.

    • Someone want to explain to me why it's so hard to verify where to sound is coming from?

      Move the needle off the cell. If the sound stops then you know the sound wasn't coming from the surronding fluid or the tip of the microscope.

      Am I missing something?
      • Re:Other identifiers (Score:4, Interesting)

        by SEWilco ( 27983 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:39PM (#8883340) Journal
        Move the needle off the cell. If the sound stops then you know the sound wasn't coming from the surronding fluid or the tip of the microscope.

        Am I missing something?

        Maybe the cell or its wall is vibrating due to sound from outside the cell. The probe might not pick it up, for example the cell wall may be resonating to a certain frequency in the sounds while the probe might be too small and rigid.

        • Well, the tests appear to have been done on lone cells. I don't know that the test will be useful for testing cells which are part of a structure.

          You'd have to isolate the cells you want to study. If you have a mass of tissue you want to investigate, then it should be easy to scrape off a cell or two to work with. Otherwise, it'd be hit-or-miss, assuming that a diseased cell is present somewhere in the tissue.

          It might be useful to apply the tests to cells taken from a blood sample. As for practicality
      • Re:Other identifiers (Score:4, Informative)

        by Thurn und Taxis ( 411165 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @02:23PM (#8883991) Homepage
        That's certainly one important control, but it's not enough. The vibration could be due to motion of the microscope stage which is coupled well to the probe tip by the cell, but not by the fluid. The mechanical load of the cell on the probe tip might also reduce the passive resonant frequency of the tip. I'm not sure exactly which tips he's using, but some of the more compliant V-shaped AFM tips unloaded resonant frequencies as low as 20 kHz; loading them with the mass of a cell could easily drop the resonant frequency down to 1 kHz. Unless he's done some careful work to show that these vibrations he's seeing aren't due to thermal noise, I would have serious doubts that they tell you anything about the cells.
    • If they are measuring vibrations generated by the AFM tip then they have a problem.

      If they are measuring vibrations generated by the fluid bathing the cells (these are in vitro preparations, right?) how could this be useful?
  • Beep beep (Score:4, Funny)

    by AtariAmarok ( 451306 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:18PM (#8883004)
    I hear the things beeping all over the place now. Little tinny tunes like Mexican Hat Dance too.

    Oh, sorry, thought you said cell PHONES.
  • oh great... (Score:4, Funny)

    by TR0GD0RtheBURNiNAT0R ( 734295 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:20PM (#8883041)
    Even more voices to listen too...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:22PM (#8883071)
    It's the Midichlorians. You'll hear them too when you learn to quiet your mind.
  • Makes total sense... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by turrican ( 55223 )
    This is one of those things is basically an inevitability, waiting only for the proper tools to exist.

    Reminds me of how a mechanic might listen to an engine, or part of it, to determine what's going on inside.
  • by hords ( 619030 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:25PM (#8883111)
    "Get your body in shape you insensitive clod"

    I hear dead people
  • I always wondered what field Dr. Teeth, from Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, held his degree in, now we know!

    Hey man, just relax and bend over the examining table while I prep this guitar tuner for insertion....

  • by Navius Eurisko ( 322438 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:27PM (#8883148)
    Skin Cell 1: Hey I saw you on the cover of Scientific American!

    Skin Cell 2: Palez! The photo totally made me look fat!

    Skin Cell 3: Jesus, just take the complement!
  • dolphin tech (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:28PM (#8883163) Homepage Journal
    Aren't there lots of stories about dolphins bumping swimmers repeatedly with their snouts, causing a medical examination which discovers a tumor? I haven't heard any theories that dolphins are causing the tumors (though they'd have plenty of material for revenge), but these bigbrained cousins are notorious for their sense of sound, superior to our sight. Maybe we should be certifying them, instead of crudely replacing them with machines.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Wouldn't it be funny if some day, we discover that the most intelligent animal on earth is the tuna? We've been eating dolphin-safe tuna for all these years when we should've been eating tuna-safe dolphins.
    • Re:dolphin tech (Score:3, Informative)

      by 3waygeek ( 58990 )
      I don't know about dolphins, but there's at least one dog [] who can detect melanoma.
    • Re:dolphin tech (Score:4, Interesting)

      by marshac ( 580242 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @03:55PM (#8885424) Homepage
      I had an oceanography professor who was swimming with some dolphins.... she noticed that they were not playing a "rough" as they had in the past... a week later, she found out that she was pregnant. I really doubt that even dolphins could detect the type of vibrations described in the story however.
      • Re:dolphin tech (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Doc Ruby ( 173196 )
        Dolphins emit the vibrations. They "see" the layered contents of objects around them in the echoes into their foreheads and snouts. We do the same thing with radar petroleum exploration, but with less feeling, and without growing up in exclusively that sensorium.
        • But do dolphins emit ultra sound? I mean, even if they do, how could they notice a clump of cells in the womb at only a week old? I'm willing it was her behavior that changed due to her pregnancy. Thus, the dolphins responded in kind.

          • Everyone emits ultrasound. Dolphins emit it, at louder volumes, and hear it. With their poorish eyesight, they might not believe you can see the period at the end of this sentence. Or, with their bigger brains and less competitive social impulses, they might accept that you can barely see the familiar punctuation, along with the capitalized next letter, and the grammar, "holistically" pronouncing the pause between sentences.
    • Dolphins "see" right through us - their sonar goes straight through the soft tissues in our bodies. Perhaps if tumours are a different density to normal tissue they're picking up the difference?
      • They "see" through us the way X-rays are seen through us: darker/quieter through less dense tissue, in at least a "greyscale". Dolphins might sense sonar "colors" in different audio frequencies. So their view of humans might be very revealing. Combined with their similar anatomy/physiology (their sonar views of humans reveal the similar skeletons and organs under the different skins/profiles), they might recognize dolphin maladies in our human forms, the way humans can tell we look sick, tired, or "glowing"
  • by dekashizl ( 663505 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:29PM (#8883182) Journal
    I've used audio feedback in conjunction with network monitoring, and it worked VERY well. I was developing a SOAP-based client/server app, and I tied a different sound (MIDI note actually, sometimes from the percussion instrument, sometimes ascending chords on piano) to each type of message the client and server could send.

    In the course of a standard interaction, it would play login, login ack, getlist, getlist-resp, etc. I could hear the timing between calls (yeh, SOAP is kind of slow like that), and more importantly hear if it was doing the right things. You pick it up *immediately* when a chord progression is major, minor, or just plain wrong), All this without taking up any screen real estate.

    This works so well, I recommend it highly. AFAIK there are no standard ways of doing this, but it certainly would be great to put some standard techniques and libraries together!
    • by jmulvey ( 233344 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:37PM (#8883297)
      Yeah, I manage my networks using sound the same way. If I make a change to a router, I pick up *immediately* when something is wrong. The sounds are usually way off in the cubicles and go something like this: "What the heck is going on!", "Are you clocking?".
    • Ditto, I wrote a quick routine to play .wav files and plugged that into my code in place of MessageBox alerts for debugging an automated chemistry cell that was running in another lab.

      I used babelfish and AT&Ts text-to-speech page to make a bunch of alert sound files in french. Besides being extremely useful (no more interrupting my workflow with a popup message everytime something happened in the lab) it was amusing as hell to watch my coworkers' reactions whenever my workstation started babbling in f

  • by Mengoxon ( 303399 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:30PM (#8883194), when you have Ride of Valkiries as your ring-tone
  • ..all play Beethoven's 5th.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Is that where all those voices in my head have been coming from?
  • by unithom ( 544624 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:32PM (#8883237)
    This is old news, ever since Meg healed her little brother Charles Wallace by teaching his cells how to sing. Or Kythe. Or something.
  • by G4from128k ( 686170 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:32PM (#8883239)
    Whenever a protein or enzyme in a cell changes shape, it should induce characteristic vibrations in the surround media. Each enzyme would emit its own characteristic vibrations when it undergoes a change in shape as it catalyzes a reaction or does its business.

    For example, I'd bet nerve cells give off sounds as the propagating impulse causes cell-surfane ion channels to pop open and closed. The ion pumps that restore ion concentrations would also emit a hum with characteristic frequencies. For membrane-embedded enzymes (e.g., the channels on nerve cells), interferometry off the membrane surface might help to detect these minute vibrations. I wonder if one could even detect the sound of prions forming when a protein is warped into the misshaped conformation that characterizes conditions like BSE -- sound of a brain going mad.

    I'd bet that one could also analyze protein/enzyme states with a fine-grained analysis of the sound transfer function for a cell. Depending on the physical state of each protein species and its concentration, a cell would attenuate or resonate with particular acoustic frequencies. Large cell structures (e.g. mitochondria) might also have their own characteristic acoustical modulation functions that depend on the size and membrane structure. If analyzing the transfer function for a live, wet cell is too hard, I suspect that flash-freezing the cell might create a better acoustical specimen.
  • I wonder why sound isn't used more for the detection of all sorts of mechanical malfunctions. After all, I hear if something is wrong with my car.
  • Diagnostics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gusmao ( 712388 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:35PM (#8883276)
    Although they may eventually reach some interesting results, it seems very unlikely that this research will change the way diagnostics are made nowadays. I don't see how someone could replace or question physiological exams based on a source of information so unreliable and subject to noises as this.

    Anyway, these guys [] have already prooved that, in some situations, is very hard to get useful information throught sound, even when you know what you may be looking for.

    • Perhaps not diagnostics per se, but a method of regular checkup as a precursor to diagnostics. Right now, people usually know they have cancer when it starts to hurt. But if this method was non-invasive and easy enough to administer, you could get yourself scanned regularly and if something showed up you'd go see a doctor for further checks. It may generate some false positives, but it may also catch some cancers a lot sooner.
  • ...cos if someone drops a nail while you're listening to your cells, it will sound like having your head inside a giant church bell at midnight.

    Diego Rey
  • by aled ( 228417 )
    Just like in Blood Music []. Now I wonder what cells has to say...
  • by shadowcabbit ( 466253 ) <cx AT thefurryone DOT net> on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:38PM (#8883317) Journal
    Things you don't want to hear from your cells:

    "I was thinking of redecorating the place; d'you think some melanoma would look good here?"
    "C'mon, all the cool kids are having apoptosis! You're not chicken, are you?"
    "The mitochondria must be liberated!"
    "Hey, alcohol! Irish stout! All right, time for Liverdance!"

    ...and the number one thing:
  • Barbarians (Score:4, Funny)

    by Wiseazz ( 267052 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:42PM (#8883368)
    Sprinkling alcohol on a yeast cell to kill it raises the pitch

    Won't someone please think of the yeast cells?

  • to get them to use the little microphones. --AC
  • by base_chakra ( 230686 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:53PM (#8883539)
    Joe Davis is an artist and research affiliate at MIT's Department of Biology. He and other MIT students and faculty assembled a similar system [] ca. 1999-2000.

    Davis is an interesting guy who's gotten a fair amount of professional and media attention for his intriguing work in genetic and biological postmodern art.
  • by David Hume ( 200499 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:54PM (#8883547) Homepage

    The LA Weekly [] had an article on this in the April 4-10, 2003, issue: Buckyballs and Screaming Cells: The amazing miniature world of UCLA chemist Jim Gimzewski []

    James Gimzewski's Website: Pico Lab []

  • Alert Slashdot reader jamie pointed out a story in Smithsonian Magazine...

    Maybe jamie's cells sounded the alert...
  • by nesneros ( 214571 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @02:00PM (#8883649) Homepage
    I'm not saying the work is bad or anything (I think it shows very novel thinking), but this hasn't been peer reviewed. This is important. Until the work has been scrutinized by experts in the field you can not tell whether or not something is statistically or scientifically significant.

    No, peer review is not a perfect process, but its the best one we have. Scientists and the press need to remember this before they make claims about scientific work.

    At least this article mentions the fact.

  • by mark-t ( 151149 ) <> on Friday April 16, 2004 @02:08PM (#8883768) Journal
    But the question is, are they into karaoke? Or maybe there's another way someone with an entrepeneural spirit could capitalize on this.
  • by wfberg ( 24378 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @02:10PM (#8883802)
    Until you realise the article isn't about cell phones..
  • one octave off (Score:4, Informative)

    by mossmann ( 25539 ) <> on Friday April 16, 2004 @02:10PM (#8883809) Homepage
    1000 Hz is actually about two octaves above middle C, not one as the article states.
  • But what do you do if they have a really annoying ring?
  • by theapodan ( 737488 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @02:27PM (#8884045)
    Hehe, now when the cells split in mitosis, you can hear all the "Ahhhhhh!" and "OOOOOOOHHH YEAH!" cell sex noises that they are sure to make.
  • Their new Music ID service [] they just came out with was just the beginning!! Their ACTUAL plans are for you to eventually dial their service; place the phone next to your chest and you'll receive a text message telling you if you cancer or not.

    ....Incoming text message......

    "You have 3 months left to live...."
    "Have a nice day!"
  • by bluenawab ( 595006 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @02:33PM (#8884139)
    Man! i dont know why i watch cartoon network so much, but i think it has some potential! i watched an episode last week in which Dexter was actually performing this very same experiment! only different being, he finds a virus-boy band! i guess i am a loser ;)
  • My cell plays the Mexican Hat Dance.
  • This would have some interesting possibilities.

    Each person could be implanted with a small, embedded device to monitor, run diagnostics, and transmit an alert to a monitoring station, just like our servers.

    Of course the danger of friends hacking your system there is apparent:
    knock knock "Uh...Mr.Jones? Its the paramedics, we're here about your um...Hamster problem. Don't worry, we brought the KY!" ;)

  • "Mitosis? Hey, buddy, I didn't know it was yours! Is this thing on? Come on, I know you're out there--I can hear you metabolizing..."

  • For what it's worth, the idea that came to him in 2001 is called Atomic Force Sensing, and is actually about five years older than that []. The only difference is that Gimzewski is looking at spontaneous oscillations rather than driven oscillations - and that's where the difficulty lies, because it's very, very hard to show that those oscillations are due to activity of the cells and not, say, vibrations caused by a truck driving by outside. I'm skeptical that these oscillations are coming from the cells (as
    • I was wondering why he choose Yeast.
      I would think that if a cell is moving its morelikely to be a single cell organism than one cell in a multi-cellular organism. I mean why would a squamous cell (skin) or an osteoclast/osteloblast (bone) move??

  • I wrote a senior undergrad thesis in college, some twenty years ago, on this subject. See what happens when you don't pursue an idea?

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.