With any medical condition, the earlier it's detected, the better the chances are of successfully treating it. When assessing biological samples from a patient, however, it's often quite difficult to see the indicators of a disease when it's still in its early stages. That could be about to change, thanks to the development of a solution known as "living liquid crystal."

The biomechanical hybrid substance consists of a water-based nontoxic liquid crystal, combined with live, swimming bacteria. It possesses "highly desirable optical properties," and moves in a very easy-to-see fashion in response to external stimuli such as the amount of oxygen available to the bacteria, the concentration of given compounds within a sample, or the temperature.

In this way, it serves as a sort of visual amplifier, allowing clinicians to see reactions or other images that might ordinarily be too subtle to detect.

The research was conducted by scientists at Ohio's Kent State University and Illinois' Argonne National Laboratory.