Cells in the body are wired like computer chips to direct signals that instruct how they function

Cells in the body are wired like computer chips to direct signals that instruct how they function

 

Monday, 27 May, 2019

Prof Mark Evans (Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences) and colleagues have published a study investigating cellular processes in the body, indicating that cells can rapidly rewire their communication networks to change their behaviour, which turns our understanding of how instructions spread around a cell on its head. By studying the movement of charged calcium molecules, the key messages that carry instructions inside cells, the researchers found that information is carried across a web of guide wires that transmit signals across tiny, nanoscale distances. It is the movement of charged molecules across these tiny distances that transmit information.  When these signals reach the genetic material in the nucleus, they instruct minute changes in structure that release specific genes to be expressed - the changes in gene expression further alter the behaviour of the cell. Understanding the code that controls the wiring system could help us to gain insight into diseases such as pulmonary hypertension and cancer, and could one day lead to developing new treatment opportunities. 

Scientists used high-powered microscopes to observe the wiring network, with the help of computing techniques similar to those that were used to obtain the first ever image of a black hole. The researchers say their findings are an example of quantum biology, which is an emergent field that uses quantum mechanics and theoretical chemistry to solve biological problems. 

Prof Evans said, "We found that cell function is coordinated by a network of nanotubes, similar to the carbon nanotubes you find in a computer microprocessor. 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 man-made microprocessors or circuit boards are yet capable of achieving."