If you place certain types of living cells on a microscope slide, the cells will inch across the glass, find their neighbors, and assemble themselves into a simple, if primitive tissue. A new study at Stanford University may help explain this phenomenon, and then some, about the mechanical structure and behavior of complex living organisms.
In the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, chemical engineer Alexander Dunn, PhD, and a multidisciplinary team of researchers in biology, physiology, and chemical and mechanical engineering, were able to measureand to literally seethe mechanical forces at play between and within the living cells.
There are scads of data explaining chemical signaling between cells. "And yet, one of the great roadblocks to a complete knowledge of how cells work together to form tissues, organs and, ultimately, us, is an understanding of the mechanical forces at play between and within cells," said Dunn.
Using a new force-sensing technique, Dunn and team have been able to see mechanical forces at work inside living cells to understand how cells connect to one another and how individual cells control their own shape and movement within larger tissues.
Pulling back the veil on the exact nature of this mechanism could have bearing on biological understanding ranging from how tissues and tumors form and grow, to the creation of entire complex living organisms.
Seeing the force
"Cells are really just machines. Small, incredibly complex biological machines, but machines nonetheless," said Dunn. "They rely on thousands of moving parts that give the cell shape and control of its destiny."
The mechanical parts are proteins whose exact functions often remain a mystery, but Dunn and team have helped explain the behaviors of a few.
At its most basic level, a cell is like a balloon filled with saltwater, Dunn explained. The exterior of
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Stanford School of Engineering