Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Cells synchronize to release toxins in unison

Crouching in the boot-sucking mud of the Baylands Nature Preserve in Palo Alto, Manu Prakash, associate professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, peered through his Foldscope -- a $1.75 origami microscope of his own invention -- scrutinizing the inhabitants of the marsh's brackish waters. With his eye trained on a large single-cell organism, called Spirostomum, he watched it do something that immediately made it his next research subject.

This observation, made through a simple tool only five miles from Prakash's lab, has now led him and colleagues to the discovery of a new form of communication between cells, which they detail in a paper published July 10 in Nature. Without touching and without electrical or chemical signals, individual Spirostomum can coordinate their ultrafast contractions so closely that groups of them appear to shrink simultaneously -- a reaction to predators that makes them release paralyzing toxins in sync.

The researchers solved this mystery by applying insights from separate research being conducted by Deepak Krishnamurthy, another graduate student in the Prakash lab, on how an individual cell can sense the movement of water around it. Once they observed the flow fields around Spirostomum, it became clear that they were communicating via hydrodynamic flows.

READ MORE: Genetically engineering yeast to improve understanding of how cells work


Arnold J. T. M. Mathijssen, Joshua Culver, M. Saad Bhamla, Manu Prakash. Collective intercellular communication through ultra-fast hydrodynamic trigger waves. Nature, 2019; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1387-9

Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle, Pharmaceutical Microbiology

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