Another type of cell phone

The strange patterns on the individual cells in this montage are natural – there all the time and, in these instances, made visible by the tricks of high-resolution microscopy.

Until recently, however, their existence wasn’t even suspected among cell biologists. What you see here is a cellular communication system – a delicate network of nano-metre wide “wires”, along which charged calcium molecules convey information from one part of the cell to another. 

In this way, the various sections of each cells – the nucleus or the mitochondira, for example, can communicate and regulate the function of genes, such as those required for growth.

The network, which has been dubbed the “cell-wide web”, was discovered by researchers led by Mark Evans from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. The finding promises to revolutionise understanding of intra-cell communication.

“We found that cell function is coordinated by a network of nanotubes, similar to the carbon nanotubes you find in a computer microprocessor,” says Evans.

“The most striking thing is that this circuit is highly flexible, as this cell-wide web can rapidly reconfigure to deliver different outputs in a manner determined by the information received by and relayed from the nucleus. This is something no man-made microprocessors or circuit boards are yet capable of achieving.”

The research is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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