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.