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A laser based on living cells has been created by researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. They were motivated to overcome one of the fundamental limitations on biological imaging: it's very difficult to get visible and infrared light in and out of the body.

Living lasers have a few basic parts that are drawn from the same list as any laser. First, the researchers genetically modified human liver cells so that they produce large amounts of green fluorescent proteins that are scattered throughout the cell. A cell carrying these proteins acts as the "gain medium"—the part of the laser that amplifies light energy. '

Like any laser, the cell laser needs an energy source to "pump" it and increase the power of the light it can emit. The researchers pumped the living lasers by pulsing the cells with light through a microscope. As light bounces around inside the cell and is re-emitted by the fluorescent proteins, it's amplified, increasing in power before being emitted in a coherent beam. To keep the light bouncing around as long as possible, to gain as much power as possible, the Boston group placed these cells inside a biocompatible optical cavity—essentially a tiny, highly reflective, cell-shaped hole.

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Category: Science