Unveiling Genesis

I am curious to find out more.

“Omnis cellula e cellula.”

If we’re going to ask German physicist Rudolf Virchow about cell formation, that’s how he would put it. “Every cell from a cell.” True enough, it is really a mystery on how a simple minute biological specimen becomes a complex organism. Starting from a single cell, there would be a reproduction of it forming a group of cells. These cells of the same function and appearance would now turn into a tissue. And different tissues “further organized into functional units” would become organs. These organs that work together with “additional level of organization and coordination” would be our organ systems. And then, the combination of all these is us.

In the book Biology, it says there that the process from cell to organism seemed to be “top-down”—a multilayered basis of specialization. But then, the big question is that how do those cells work together to form a tissue, organ, organ system, and later, a living, thinking and functioning organism?

A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, by chemical engineer Alexander Dunn, PhD, and other scientists, tried to unveil this mystery. Based from the article “Forces of Nature: Defining the Mechanical Mechanisms in Living Cells,” he and company used a certain force-sensing technique to further explain the phenomenon. This technique enabled them to “see mechanical forces at work inside the living cells.” It also made them “understand how cells connect to another and how individual cells control their own shape and movement with larger tissues.”

During the study, they described cells as “machines” and its movement attachments like a “Puppeteer’s string.” An action made by a part affects the whole. And the ones that are responsible for the morphogenetic movements and tissue building were blamed to cadherins, actins, myosins and catenins.

Cadherin is a class of Cell Adhesion Molecules (CAMs), a key group of glycoproteins that plays a significant role in cell migration and stable tissue structure. This protein is said to be connected to actin and myosin– the ones that are responsible for contraction of the muscles (also called contractile and motor proteins). This explains why the cell is continually moving (or contracting) and has its shape. And these two are connected by another protein called catenin.

This implies that since a certain cell is connected to other cells, then it could have the control, like a puppeteer’s string, over important functions like its growth, the division process, migration and the maintenance of its shape.

But then, how to take control? That is the thing they wanted to debunk from the very start of the study. Through series of experiments, they have determined that “these proteins are in fact linked together and are at the heart of inter- and intra- cellular mechanical force transmission.” By such a discovery is the birth of the need to explore this matter in depth. It is because there would be a lot of benefits if the curtain would be removed. Just like what was mentioned in the article, this could be a breakthrough in the knowledge of “how tissues and tumors grow, to the creation of entire complex living organism.” For example, if experts know about this, then they could formulate cures for certain kinds of diseases. I believe that if this study becomes a success, this would contribute a lot to the medical field, to the systematized body of knowledge, in general.

Honestly, while reading the article, I kind of doubt the possibility of it, since I always thought cell reproduction and other processes involved are involuntary, that is, cannot be controlled. But then, experiments and consensus from different experts have proven that there is a possibility of it. The need now is to know the how’s, when’s and where’s.

Personally, I am not totally inclined to these kinds of topics.  But the joy of getting to discover an unimaginable fact—it really made me wonder. Now, I am curious to find out more.

References:

Campbell, Neil A. et.al. (2009). Biology 8th edition. Singapore: Pearson Education South Asia PTE LTD.

Stanford School of Engineering (2012, July 16). Force of nature: Defining the mechanical mechanisms in living cells. Science Daily.

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