Manipulating cells that emit their behavior might help scientists explore their inner workings

Waves are omnipresent in nature and technologyWhether it's the rise and fall of the tides or the swing of a clock's pendulum, the predictable rhythms of the waves create a signal that's easy to trace and distinguish from other varieties of signals.

Electronic devices equivalent to laptops and Wi-Fi routers or cell phones and cell towers use radio waves to send and receive data. Similarly, scientists can use a special variety of wave to transmit a special variety of data: signals from the invisible processes and dynamics underlying cellular decision-making.

I’m a synthetic biologistand mine Research group developed a technology that sends a wave of genetically modified proteins They travel through a human cell to offer insight into the hidden activities that energize cells after they're healthy and harm them after they go haywire.

Waves are a strong engineering tool

The oscillating behavior of waves is one reason why they represent effective patterns in technology.

For example, controlled and predictable changes in wave oscillations may be used to encode data equivalent to voice or video information. In the case of Radio, every station is assigned a novel electromagnetic wave that vibrates at its own frequency. These are the numbers you see on the radio scale.

Animated diagram showing a signal wave (gentle hills and valleys), AM waves (more waves fit the shape of hills and valleys), and FM waves (clusters of waves that spread out slightly in the valleys of the signal).
Waves may be modulated to transmit several types of information, equivalent to FM and AM radio.
Berserkerus/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Scientists can extend this technique to living cells. My team used Waves of proteins to remodel a cell right into a microscopic radio station that sends data about its activity in real time to check its behavior.

Turning cells into radio transmitters

To study the inside of a cell, a variety of wave is required that may specifically connect with and interact with the mechanism and components of a cell.

Animation of cyan and manganese waves forming a spiral
The bacterial proteins MinD (cyan) and MinE (magenta) can self-organize into spiral patterns.
CellfOrganized/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

While electronic devices are made up of wires and transistors, cells are constructed from and controlled by a various collection of chemical constructing blocks. so-called proteins. Proteins perform a wide range of functions throughout the cell, from extracting energy from sugar to deciding whether the cell should grow.

Protein waves are generally rare in nature, but some bacteria naturally produce waves of two proteins, the MinD and MinE – normally referred to collectively as MinDE – to assist them divide. My team discovered that introducing MinDE into human cells causes the proteins to reorganize and produce an astonishing number of Waves and patterns.

MinDE protein waves don’t interact with other proteins in human cells. However, we found that MinDE flippantly constructed to answer the activity of certain human proteins which are answerable for deciding whether to grow, send signals to neighboring cells, move, and divide.

Left: Population of hundreds of human cells with protein oscillations. Right: decoded cell state data from each individual cell within the population, color-coded by activity
By introducing MinDE into human cells, visual patterns are created that may indicate changes in protein activity within the cell.
Scott Coyle and Chih-Chia Chang, CC BY-ND

The protein dynamics that control these cellular functions are often difficult to detect and study in living cells since the activity of proteins is mostly invisible even to high-performance microscopes. Disrupting these protein patterns is by Core of many Cancer and developmental disorders.

We have made connections between MinDE protein waves and the activity of proteins answerable for necessary cellular processes. Now, the activity of those proteins triggers changes within the frequency or amplitude of the protein wave, identical to an AM/FM radio. Using microscopes, we are able to detect and record the unique signals that individual cells emit, after which decode them to recreate the dynamics of those cellular processes.

We've only just begun to scratch the surface of the ways scientists can use protein waves to check cells, and if the history of waves in technology is any indication, their potential is gigantic.

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