Dances with Cells

Cells artwork

A fresh look using new technologies

by Brian Thomas, Ph.D

Cell biologists have long focused on the tiniest of interactions: those between molecules. Recently, some researchers have zoomed out just a little to take a fresh look using new technologies at those cellular compartments, called organelles. Their discoveries give new insight into diseases, prompt a desire to redraw all the standard textbook cell pictures, and challenge anyone who still thinks of cells as simple blobs of protoplasm.

The journal Nature ran a feature article on these emerging research finds.1 The main new lesson? Organelles interconnect in elaborate ways. They don’t work as isolated compartments, but wrap around and pin against one another. And their closeness is no accident.

Complicated arrangements of organelle connections include the way that endoplasmic reticulum dynamically folds around mitochondria. This way—and only this way—they can swap enough products like calcium, lipids, and sugars fast enough to keep the cell healthy.

Additional research revealed super-contact zones between a handful of organelles. These zones use specific tether proteins. Cell biologist Laura Lackner at Northwestern University in Evanston told Nature, “It brings in a whole other layer of spatial organization.

Cells already boast the world’s most densely encoded language in their DNA sequence, plus an array of added genetic and epigenetic codes and even chromosomal architecture. Now this…

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image credit: Original artwork