Cellular skeletons on a new avatar
or cytoskeletons, are shapeshifting networks of tiny protein filaments,
enabling cells to propel themselves, carry cargo, and divide. Now, an interdisciplinary
team of California Institute of Technology researchers has designed a way to
study and manipulate the cytoskeleton in test tubes in the lab. Understanding
how cells control movement could one day lead to tiny, bioinspired robots for
therapeutic applications. The work also contributes to the development of new
tools for manipulating fluids on very small scales relevant to molecular
biology and chemistry.
The building blocks
of the cellular cytoskeleton are thin, tube-like filaments called microtubules
that can form together into three-dimensional scaffolds. Each microtubule is
1,000 times thinner than a human hair and only about 10 micrometers long.
Researchers have taken these molecules out of the cell and put them into test tubes, where the tubules and motor proteins spontaneously group together to organize themselves into star-shaped structures called asters.