Scientists plant the world’s smallest moustache on a red blood cell

Scientists from some of Australia’s most advanced technology institutions have teamed up with Australian Red Cross Lifeblood to grow the world’s tiniest “mo” on a red blood cell.

The microscopic moustache, which measures just 5 micrometres, has been developed in support of the global men’s health charity, Movember.

Movember raises awareness and funds to tackle men’s mental health and suicide prevention, prostate cancer, and testicular cancer. The scaled-down ‘stache has been developed to promote awareness of the important role blood donation plays in men’s health.

Lifeblood collected the red blood cell from a volunteer donor in Melbourne. Then a team at the Ramaciotti Centre for Cryo-Electron Microscopy at Monash University fixed it to a gold coated slide and gilded it with a with a layer of metal only about 15 nanometers thick.

Scientists from the Australian National Fabrication Facility’s Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication (MCN) then placed the mo on the blood cell using a focused ion beam scanning electron microscope (FIB-SEM).

Credit: Australian Red Cross Lifeblood

“FIB-SEM is capable of imaging structures as small as 1/10,000th of the width of a human hair, by employing high-energy beams of metal ions to etch and deposit tiny structures,” says Bernie Orelup, Engineering & Operations Manager at MCN.

“The process to make the moustache is akin to constructing a miniature ‘Mr. Potato Head’ accessory. We crafted the tiny mo by layering 3D printed polymer resin and attached it to a single red blood cell using a micro manipulator.

“The intricate process, using state-of-the-art nanofabrication techniques, allowed us to create a symbol of support for men’s health that’s invisible to the naked eye but carries a powerful message.”

According to Lifeblood, 3 of the top 4 leading causes of death for men in Australia — heart disease, lung and throat cancers, and blood clots (including strokes) — can require blood products during treatment.

Scanning electron microscope image of the tiny mo on a red blood cell
Images of the mini moustache being placed on a red blood cell. Credit: Credit: Australian Red Cross Lifeblood

“Blood donation isn’t just a way of helping your mates, it is also a great way to get to know your own health while saving a life, with every donation including a check of your heart rate, blood pressure, and we also check iron store levels in new male donors,” says Lifeblood spokesperson Alison Gould.

During Movember (the month formerly known as November) anyone who donates blood in Australia will receive a limited-edition bandage designed by Movember co-founder and artist Travis Garone.

“Just when I thought I’d seen it all, a group of scientists come along and plant the world’s tiniest moustache on a red blood cell. What a brilliant campaign to show the critical role that blood donation plays in men’s health – and what a huge testament to the creativity and dedication of those who continue to fly the flag for men’s health,” adds Garone.

Cosmos wonderful graphic designer and audio visual editor Marc Blazewicz is raising funds for Movember. You can sponsor him here.

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