New Horizons in Science

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The cell as a pump

Topic: Mechanics
Micrograph of biofilm made up of a variety of bacteria
Monday, November 4, 2013 -
10:30am to 11:15am
Century Ballroom B

What are cells? Among other things, most are pumps, and that’s how Tommy Angelini sees them. Animal cells are built to generate contractile forces; they pull on each other and can generally pump an amount of fluid 10 times their internal volume in an hour. This mechanical perspective turns the notion of cell signaling on its head. A biochemist might imagine cell signaling as a diffusion process; Angelini, understanding cells as machines, says cells respond to mechanical signals by pushing signaling molecules through their pores. When crowded, they form “cell hordes” whose behavior is altered by collective experience. Angelini studies both prokaryotic cells—bacterial biofilms—and assemblages of eukaryotic cells such as endothelial layers and developing embryos.


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