Washington: Scientists have used a
laser beam to activate a protein that makes a cluster of fruit
fly cells act like a school of fish turning in social unison,
following the lead of the one stimulated with light.
The study of this unexpected cell movement by a team
at the Johns Hopkins University holds potential importance for
understanding embryonic development, wound healing and tumour
metastasis - the process by which tumour cells acquire ability
to invade surrounding tissues and migrate long distances to
colonise lymph nodes, bones and other distant organs.
According to the scientists, the research dramatically
demonstrates the collective direction-sensing behaviour of
live cells in intact tissue, and a means of controlling
protein behaviour in a living organism by shining a focused
beam of light precisely on the parts of cells where they want
the protein to be active.
"Our little system in the fruit fly is an
elegant example of cells behaving socially in their natural
environment -- surrounded by other cells. You can`t capture
this behaviour if you look at individual cells in a culture
dish," said Prof Denise Montell, who led the team.
The "social" migrating behaviour among a cluster of
cells in the fly ovary surprised the research team, which was
using a new laser light tool to manipulate protein activity.
"People tend to think of cancer as single cells
breaking off from the tumour and migrating away," Montell
said, "but it`s likely this collective form of movement`s
important, at one phase or another, in the spread of tumours."
The findings have been published in the `Nature Cell