There are about 30 to 40 million human cells in the human body, and they work along with neurons, forming a large and complex network of blood cells. There are also specialized cells which make up the tissues and organs. The field of cell biology has been struggling to clarify what mechanisms control the cellular communication between all these parts, and this challenge is not easy.
Virgil Percec led some research in Penn’s Department of Chemistry collaborating with the departments of cell and developmental biology and biology of the University along with Temple and Aachen Universities. The study provided a new tool that can be used to study synthetic cells in incredible detail.
The group led by Percec made a demonstration showing how valuable their method. The new technique looks at how the ability of a cell to communicate and interact with other cells and proteins depends on its structure.
Human Cells Communicate At A Molecular Level Using Sugars
According to the study, human cells communicate at a molecular level using sugars. Sugars become, therefore, like channels which are used by proteins and cells to “talk” to one another. Their findings were published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Percec said that “ultimately, this research is about understanding how cell membranes function.” In addition to that, “people try to understand how human cells function, but it is challenging to do. Everything in the cell is liquid-like, and that makes it difficult to analyze it by conventional methods,” Percec added.
Cells used to be studied by cell biologists using diffraction. To do so, the researchers would need to take atomic-level pictures of individual parts, such as proteins after breaking them apart. This approach has a problem, and that is that studying human cells as a whole is not possible. The new method developed in the new study addresses that issue.