Pulse 105: Cells Are Like Reconfigurable Computer Chips

3 June 2019
Giulio Prisco

Cell-Wide Web

Cells in the body are wired like computer chips to direct signals that instruct how they function, research suggests, scientists at Edinburgh have found (see below).

"We found that cell function is coordinated by a network of nanotubes, similar to the carbon nanotubes you find in a computer microprocessor,” said research leader Mark Evans.

"The most striking thing is that this circuit is highly flexible, as this cell-wide web can rapidly reconfigure to deliver different outputs in a manner determined by the information received by and relayed from the nucleus. This is something no human-made microprocessors or circuit boards are yet capable of achieving."

Understanding the code that controls the cellular wiring system could help understand diseases and open up new enhancement opportunities.

Nanoscale circuits control the behavior of living cells. Researchers at University of Edinburgh have found that cells in the body can rapidly rewire their communication networks to change their behavior. A research paper published in Nature Communications shows that, in the “cell-wide web,” information is carried across a web of guide wires that transmit signals across tiny, nanoscale distances. When these signals reach the genetic material at the heart of the cell, called the nucleus, they instruct minute changes in structure that release specific genes so that they can be expressed.

YES, broccoli is good for you and has anti-cancer properties. Scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have shown that targeting the gene WWP1 with compounds found in broccoli suppressed tumor growth in cancer-prone lab animals. A study published in Science describes an enzyme that drives a pathway critical to the development of cancer, and can be inhibited with a natural compound found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables.

New strategy to fight viral infections and cancers. Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Health have described a potential therapeutic strategy to treat viral infection and boost immunity against cancer. The research results, described in a paper published in Cell, indicate that boosting the body's production of interferons - signaling proteins made and released by host cells in response to the presence of several viruses - helped clear viral infection and increased immunity against cancer in laboratory animals.

New nanoscale wound dressing mitigates blood loss. Scientists at Texas A&M University are harnessing the combined power of organic nanomaterials-based chemistry and a natural product found in crustacean exoskeletons to help bring emergency medicine one step closer to a viable solution for mitigating blood loss, from the hospital to the battlefield. The researchers have developed a bioabsorbable wound dressing, described in a study published in Nature Communications, which builds on the already proven blood-flow-staunching properties of chitosan - a natural material widely used in commercial wound dressings - by taking them nanoscale to boost their effectiveness and impact.

Transgenic fungus kills malaria mosquitoes. Researchers from the University of Maryland and Burkina Faso have described the first trial outside the laboratory of a transgenic approach to combating malaria. A study published in Science shows that a naturally occurring fungus engineered to deliver a toxin to mosquitoes safely reduced mosquito populations by more than 99% in a screen-enclosed, simulated village setting in Burkina Faso, West Africa.

Recording brain activity in freely moving animals. Researchers at Osaka University have developed a new method to record brain activity simultaneously in multiple, freely moving mice. The method, described in a research paper published in Scientific Reports, is based on a bioluminescent indicator of membrane voltage called 'LOTUS-V', delivered to cells via a gene expression system; it is therefore minimally invasive. LOTUS-V enabled cable-free detection of brain activity in freely moving mice. Activation in the primary visual cortex was found during social interaction.

Cancer immunotherapy produces a powerful response in mice. Researchers at University of Edinburgh have suggested that cancer therapies, which use immune cells to trigger the body to attack tumors, could be improved by a molecule that boosts their function. The scientists found it also influences immune cells and boosts their function. A study with laboratory mice, published in OncoImmunology, found the improved therapies produced a powerful anti-cancer immune response, which led to tumors shrinking.

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