The Shape of Life: Research Sheds Light on How Cells Take Shape

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Mystery of Life

How life takes shape is a mystery. Butterfy or baby, cells organize themselves into tissues, tissues form organs, organs become organisms. Over and over, patterns emerge in all living creatures. Spiders get eight legs. Leopards get spots. Every nautilus is encased in an elegant spiral shell.

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This phenomenon of pattern formation is critical in developmental biology. But the forces that govern it are far from clear. Alan Turing, father of modern computer science, suggested that the basis for pattern formation was chemical. New research conducted at Brown University and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences supplies another surprising answer: Physical, as well as chemical, forces can dictate pattern formation.

In a two-year study, Brown physicists James Valles and Jay Tang puzzled over the patterns created by proteins called microtubules. Shaped like long, skinny straws, these proteins are puny

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