JUN 04, 2019 12:43 PM PDT

Modeling Cell Division Outside of the Cell

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

As organisms grow, their cells have to move into the right places. Cells also move as they divide, build, and maintain all kinds of organisms. Single-celled microbes need to be able to navigate around their environment as well. The physics underlying these dynamics are still not well understood. Researchers have now recreated the process of cell division, outside of a cell, to learn more about it. The findings, which include the short video below, have been reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and can help scientists create better synthetic materials and artificial cells.

“The mechanisms that allow organisms to move and change shape are inherent to life, and they are all underlaid by physics,” noted the senior author of the report Margaret Gardel, a professor of physics at the University of Chicago. “But despite how central they are for our understanding of biology, a great deal of these remain poorly understood.”

While cells have to migrate to different physical locations, cell division involves very complex movements of structures within the cell; different proteins have to get into place, the cytoskeleton has to make the right shapes, and chromosomes have to be copied and properly sorted, for example.

“How cells divide is one of the most basic aspects of trying to create life, and it's something we've been trying to understand for hundreds of years,” said Gardel.

The first author of the report, postdoctoral fellow Kim Weirich, began to use cellular components - actin, a part of the cell’s cytoskeleton, and myosin, motor proteins that are critical to muscle function - to engineer things outside of the cellular environment. 

The researchers were shocked to see that when actin proteins were separate, almond-shaped droplets would form. When myosin proteins were added, they moved to the center of the droplet, and the droplet pinched in two. “There's no precedent for this,” said Gardel. “It looks exactly like the spindles that drive cell division."

Modeling the chemistry and physics showed that actin molecules, shaped like rods, align into an ovoid shape, and myosin, trying to stay parallel to the actin, moves to the center. As more myosins accumulate, they cluster, tilting instead of remaining parallel, and pinching the structure in two. Now researchers have taken a detailed look at the process, which is very different from cell division, but probably has similar principles, the researchers suggested.

“This is the kind of thing you need to know to imagine building things like artificial tissue for a wound,” Gardel said.

“Ultimately, a great deal of problems in biology are about how ensembles of molecules work together, and because these are often materials with chemical reactions going on inside, they're very hard to model,” she added. “These kinds of studies allow us the opportunity to explore the basic principles of the forces at play.”

In the video above, Margaret Gardel is featured discussing the physical properties of cells.

Sources: Phys.org via University of Chicago, PNAS

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
OCT 13, 2020
Microbiology
Bacterial Biofilms Can Take on Some Animal-Like Characteristics
OCT 13, 2020
Bacterial Biofilms Can Take on Some Animal-Like Characteristics
Bacteria are everywhere, even inside of our bodies, and they are thought to date back to the early days of life on Earth ...
OCT 19, 2020
Plants & Animals
Genetically Engineered Foods Could Alleviate Nutritional Deficiencies
OCT 19, 2020
Genetically Engineered Foods Could Alleviate Nutritional Deficiencies
There are over two billion people around the world that don't get the recommended levels of minerals and vitamins in ...
NOV 05, 2020
Cardiology
Investigating Platelet-Derived Extracellular Vesicles in Blood Clotting
NOV 05, 2020
Investigating Platelet-Derived Extracellular Vesicles in Blood Clotting
In our bodies, there are millions of signals and packages being sent and received every second. In the past several deca ...
NOV 09, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
The Science Behind Wine Fraud Prevention
NOV 09, 2020
The Science Behind Wine Fraud Prevention
Wine comes in a wide range of flavors and prices. Wine fraud, in which cheaply produced wine is passed off as the expens ...
NOV 17, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Chronic Inflammation Lowers Levels of Aging-Linked Molecule
NOV 17, 2020
Chronic Inflammation Lowers Levels of Aging-Linked Molecule
Over the years, the molecule nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) has gone from being a player in some biochemical p ...
NOV 27, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Gravity Affects Gene Expression
NOV 27, 2020
Gravity Affects Gene Expression
If people are going to explore deep space, we should learn more about the effects that such an environment would potenti ...
Loading Comments...