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Researchers in Japan think they have found an answer to the fundamental biological question of how individual cells know which way to position themselves within a complex, multicellular body. Depending on a cell's purpose in the larger structure, contact or diffuse chemical signals direct it to its final destination.
The journey from egg and sperm to a fully grown body requires more than just multiplication. Plants, animals, and people are all made of trillions of cells, carefully organized into larger structures like tissues and organs. Somehow, each cell knows where it belongs—the left side of the heart, the inner lining of the colon, and so on—and generally stays put.
Cells - Position - Organisms - Players - Cell
"It's close to impossible to dissect what's happening while cells position themselves in multicellular organisms because there are so many players: different cell types, different molecules inside cells, different chemical signals outside the cells, cell growth, programmed cell death," said Professor Satoshi Sawai from the University of Tokyo, an expert in biological physics, a field that uses the principles of physics to understand living systems.
Slime molds provide a simpler system to understand cell positioning. Slime molds are amoebas, but are similar in size and shape to human white blood cells and share the fundamental aspects of cell dynamics, such as migration and engulfment of disease-causing pathogens.
Cells - Slime - Mold - Dictyostelium - Discoideum
Individual cells of the slime mold Dictyostelium discoideum can exist independently, living freely in the soil and eating bacteria and fungi. When food is scarce, independent slime mold cells clump together and function as a multicellular organism.
When slime mold cells clump together, sometimes 100 cells, other times 10,000 cells, they differentiate into two distinct types.
Type - Cells - Column - Type - Cells
The first type, pre-stalk cells, eventually forms a column that supports a sphere composed of the second type, pre-spore cells. Researchers call this two-part structure a fruiting body. The pre-stalk cells will die as...
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