A ‘nano-suit’ that allows organisms to tolerate high vacuum conditions
A simple surface modification can enable multicellular organisms to survive in a high vacuum, a study reports. Takahiko Hariyama and colleagues examined the ability of various multicellular organisms to survive in a high vacuum environment in the observation chamber of a scanning electron microscope (SEM). Whereas most multicellular organisms become rapidly dehydrated and die when exposed to the greatly reduced pressure of a high vacuum, the researchers found that exposure to electron beams or plasma modified the surface of some organisms and allowed them to survive. When animals whose surfaces were covered by extracellular substances (ECS) were subjected to electron bombardment or plasma irradiation, they immediately formed a 50 – 100 nm protective layer over their surface. The thin surface barrier, which the authors named a “nano-suit,” appeared to be caused by surface polymerization, and the authors found that an artificial coating of the non-toxic detergent compound Tween-20 allowed organisms without a natural ECS coating to survive SEM exposure. A thin polymer nano-suit allows multicellular organisms to tolerate high vacuum by acting as a flexible barrier to the passage of gases and liquids, and the coating would allow live specimens to be observed using a high resolution SEM, according to the authors.
“A thin polymer membrane, nano-suit, enhancing survival across the continuum between air and high vacuum,” by Yasuharu Takaku et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doi:10.1073/pnas.1221341110, 2013. Source: EurekAle