Research suggests that the body’s cells are wired to direct signals instructing how they function, just like computer chips. Cells are capable of rapidly rewiring their communication networks to change their behavior, unlike fixed circuit boards. Discovering this cell-wide web turns the understanding of the way instructions spread around a cell on its head.
Researchers thought that the various structures and organs inside cells float around in the cytoplasm (an open sea). Scientist thought signals telling the cell what to do were transmitted in waves. The waves’ frequency was the important part of the message.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh discovered that a web of guide wires carries across information. They transmit signals over tiny, nanoscale distances. Researchers said the movement of charged molecules across these nanoscale distances transmits information. This is just like in computer microprocessors.
The localized signals take charge of orchestrating the activities of the cells like instructing the muscle cells to contract or relax. The signals get to the genetic material at the cell’s heart, known as the nucleus. They instruct minute changes in structure releasing specific genes to express them.
The changes in the gene expression alter the behavior of the cell further. When the cell moves from a steady state to a growth phase, the web gets reconfigured completely. This is so that it can transmit signals which switch on genes necessary for growth.
Researchers say that understanding the code controlling this wiring system can help understand diseases like cancer and pulmonary hypertension. It could also open up new treatment opportunities one day.
The researchers made their findings by studying movement of charged calcium molecules inside cells. These are the key messages carrying instructions inside cells. They used high-powered microscopes to observe the wiring network. They also used computing techniques just like the ones that enabled the first obtainable image of a black hole.
The researchers say that their findings are an example of quantum biology. This is an emerging field that uses theoretical chemistry and quantum mechanics in solving biological problems. Professor Mark Evans said that they found that a nanotube network coordinates cell function. This is similar to carbon nanotubes found in computer microprocessors. This circuit is highly flexible as the cell-wide web is able to rapidly reconfiguring to deliver different outputs. They do so in a manner that is determined by information received and relayed from the nucleus. Circuit boards and human-made microprocessors are yet to achieve this.
The British Heart Foundation funded the study. It was published in Nature communications.
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- University of Edinburgh. (2019, May 24). Scientists discover signaling circuit boards inside body’s cells. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 27, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190524102755.htm