Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A speed race between cells, for science and for fun

In an effort to discover the capabilities of cells to move, scientists have set up a tournament to find the world's fastest cells. 50 groups of scientists submitted a cell culture to the American Society for Cell Biology, who organised this special event. Of course, the whole race was recorded on video.

Ready, set, crawl
The video shows cells crawling along a lane designed to fit them. The tracks are coated with a special substance called fibronectin, which is found in the body as a component of the extracellular matrix, that holds cells together in tissues. Cells are attached to the matrix by special molecules, but these bonds are not permanent. That is why they can move away from their location.

Video courtesy of New Scientist.

And the winner is
After the dust settled, the scientists discovered that adult stem cells coming from the bone marrow were the fastest crawlers. Their average speed was measured to be 5.2 microns per minute. That is only 0,0052 millimetres per minute, which means a microscope is necessary to track their progress.

Letting cells race each other is not purely for entertainment. Movement of cells is found in certain cancers, where it is commonly known as metastasis. According to the scientists, fun experiments like these give insight into cancer spread throughout the body. Because metastasis is an often lethal consequence of cancer, the cell race is anything but useless.

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