Sunday, December 2, 2012

Cells pull themselves apart during division

Cell division is needed to create multicellular forms of life, such as us human beings. Division creates 'daughter' cells that enable tissue renewal by replacing old and dying cells, and it is the driving force behind embryonic development. For example, human beings start as a single fertilized cell, but grow into a collection of billions of cells that all work together. We know a great deal about how cells split off from each other, but it remains a peculiar and interesting phenomenon. New research shows that cell division is similar to the rope-pulling game 'tug of war'.

Tug of war is played by two teams that pull a single rope, and the same thing basically happens during cell division, as New Scientists explains. The mechanical stress that is present in a cell that started its division process was measured by a group of Japanese scientists, that used so-called traction force microscopy. This technique allows for force measurements on a cellular level; a very delicate process.
Experiments were performed with amoeba, which are single-celled organisms that divide in order to procreate. In the lab, the scientists put the cells on a surface covered with fluorescent beads. By looking at how the pattern of beads deforms during cell division, the technique can tell us something about the force that is exerted by the cell. The Japanese researchers found that during cell division, the amount of force nearly doubles. This is achieved by using the molecules that connect the cell to the surface: due to this connection, it is possible to exert force on the cell itself, which results in the cell pulling itself apart from both sides, much like what's happening during tug of war. Only during cell division, both sides win.
This experiment tells us something how a cell generates sufficient force to divide itself and create daughter cells. We already know a lot about how a cell employs special structures to pull itself apart, but the Japanese scientists showed what happens in terms of the generated force and how it is exerted. While it does not provide us with much practical purposes, it does tell us more about one of the most fundamental processes of life.

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