The study of complex biological systems requires methods to perturb the system in complex yet controlled ways to elucidate mechanisms and dynamic interactions, and to recreate in vivo conditions in flexible in vitro set-ups. This paper reviews recent advances in the use of micro- and nanotechnologies in the study of complex biological systems and the advantages they provide in these two areas. Particularly useful for controlling the chemical and mechanical microenvironments of cells is a set of techniques called soft lithography, whereby elastomeric materials are used to transfer and generate micro- and nanoscale patterns. Examples of some of the capabilities of soft lithography include the use of elastomeric stamps to generate micropatterns of protein and the use of elastomeric channels to localize chemicals with subcellular spatial resolutions. These types of biological micro- and nanotechnologies combined with mathematical modeling will propel our understandings of cellular and subcellular physiology to new heights.
Keywords: microtechnology, nanotechnology, cellular function, microfabrication, soft lithography, nanoscale, microscale
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