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Green algae move to the beat
Date:10/25/2013

This news release is available in German.

The beating of flagella is one of the basic principles of movement in the cellular cosmos. However, up to now, scientists were unsure as to how the movements of several of these small cellular appendages are synchronised. Dresden-based researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics and the MPI for the Physics of Complex Systems have now succeeded in demonstrating how the green alga Chlamydomonas synchronises the movements of its two flagella using a resourceful rocking movement. To do this, the researchers started by developing a theoretical model which they were then able to substantiate in experiments with the microscopic breaststroke swimmers: when the two flagella lose their rhythm, the cell begins to rock. This causes the swimming movements to slow down or accelerate. The resulting synchronisation mechanism is based solely on the coupling of the two movements of the body and the flagella; no special sensors or chemical signals are needed.

"An alga is a wonderful model for investigating our research question because, with its two flagella, it shows us very clearly how several of these appendage-like structures are synchronised using mechanical forces alone," says Benjamin Friedrich from the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems who headed the studies. How tens of thousands of molecular engines work together to set flagella in motion and synchronise them is a matter of great interest, as this mechanism underlies numerous processes: "The tiny cellular appendages are one of nature's greatest hits: they drive sperm and form big conveyor belts in the fallopian tubes and airways," explains Friedrich.

The cellular extensions, which are a mere ten micrometres long, b
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Contact: Dr. Veikko Geyer
geyer@mpi-cbg.de
49-351-210-2891
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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