"I still remember for the very first time, seeing this organism swim by under the Foldscope," said Prakash. "This is a massive cell but it contracts in less than a blink of an eye, accelerating faster than almost any other single cell. When you aren't expecting it, it's like it disappears. I remember being so excited, I had to bring the cells back to the lab and take a careful look."
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.
Ways - Communication - Biology - Kind - Cells
"There are many different ways of communication in biology but this is really a new kind of signaling between cells that we're trying to understand," said Arnold Mathijssen, a postdoctoral scholar in the Prakash lab and lead author of the paper. "It's possible this is more universal than we've described so far and is a way many different kinds of organisms communicate."
The Prakash lab gathers wild samples of various tiny organisms from an area they call Peggy's Bench -- so named for a nearby memorial bench -- and they've been coming here for years, often a couple times a week. Mixed salt and fresh waters, changing tides and bird migrations make the marsh a potential biodiversity hot spot. Although, Prakash knew none of that when he first visited.
Lagunita - Place - Prakash - Lake - Stanford
"Lake Lagunita had dried out and I was looking for a new place to sample," recalled Prakash, referring to a small seasonal lake on Stanford...
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