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As quantum dots have better quantum yield than organic dyes, many are being developed as a substitute for them. Nonetheless, could these substitutes be small enough to enter inside cells as current dyes do, or would they be operate outside a cell?

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    $\begingroup$ How big are quantum dots and what is their chemical nature? Likewise for the dyes you mention. If you want someone here to do the biology, you need to research and supply the chemistry. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Jul 20 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ @David quantum dots is a rather generic term, which describes many types of (mostly semiconductor) structures, with sizes of a few tens to hundred nanometers. The caveat is that these are usually an integral part of a much bigger semiconductor crystal. What is meant here are probably the QDs embedded in small colloidal particles - perhaps of micrometer size. Still, their chemical nature may vary wildly. $\endgroup$ Jul 22 at 19:07
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As far as I can tell, they do not (readily) cross the plasma membrane. This paper, "Cell-Penetrating Peptide-Functionized Quantum Dots for Intracellular Delivery", discusses strategies to deliver quantum dots into cells. These include:

  • Passive delivery done by coating the quantum dots in something that allows them to be endocytosed more readily (the authors do not seem to be optimistic about this strategy)
  • Mechanically faciliated delivery (e.g. microinjection)
  • Peptide-facilitated delivery by complexing the quantum dots with a cell-penetrating peptide

Since people are going through all this effort to get them in, it does not seem like they are cell-permeable without substantial modification.

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