At least in fruit flies, fat cells have been found to exhibit several previously unknown and surprising behaviours geared to healing wounds and fending off infection.
The behaviours are surprising because they involve properties that fat cells – considered to be one of the most uncontroversial, best examined and, frankly, unexciting cell types around – had not been remotely suspected of possessing.
The cells, it turns out, can swim – really swim, moving along by flexing and contracting. What’s more, they do so in response to some form of unknown signal – something that has so far eluded the scientists searching for it.
In a paper published in the journal Developmental Cell, researchers led by biochemist Paul Martin from the University of Bristol, UK, describe how fat cells in fruit flies (Drosophila) play an unexpectedly major and mobile role in wound healing.
The scientists were able to film individual cells reacting to a cut sustained by a fruit fly.
The fat cells can be seen propelling themselves forward, using wave-like contortions, towards the site of the injury. This is doubly interesting. Until now, fat cells were not thought to be capable of moving under their own power, nor were they thought to play any role at all in wound repair.
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.
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