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The Best of Cell Biology

A new eBook compiles recent articles from The Scientist that capture the essence of new conceptual and technological territory being explored on the cellular level.

Bob Grant
Dec 20, 2019

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The following articles appear in The Best of Cell Biology eBook, which you can download for free.


The Destructive Path of Parkinson’s

In recent years, researchers have been exploring the idea that Parkinson’s disease results from dysfunction in the fundamental cellular process of waste removal. This represents a departure from decades of study that have focused on the accumulation of the protein α-synuclein as the primary pathological feature of Parkinson’s and a top target for its treatment. But recent work makes a compelling case that this view is nearsighted. Genetic studies, for example, have begun to reveal mutations in Parkinson’s patients’ genes that cause problems with the ability of cells to break down excess lipids and proteins, including α-synuclein. Experiments are also beginning to show that the proteinaceous clumps thought to cause neurodegeneration actually include diverse cellular components, even entire organelles such as dysfunctional mitochondria and lysosomes, rather than just α-synuclein. Recent mouse studies have also suggested that natural aging, at least in the rodents, leads to the buildup of lipids, and not necessarily proteins, associated with the disease. These results support the novel hypothesis that Parkinson’s is a cellular machinery problem, not a protein problem.

Shell Games

For years, bacteria were thought to be little more than sacs of cytoplasm, lacking the distinct subcellular organization that is characteristic of eukaryotic cells. But recently, researchers are identifying geometric micro- and nanocompartments that house cellular reactions and are considered by some to be equivalent of eukaryotic organelles. Now, scientists are beginning to understand how they work, in hopes of one day building their own compartments to carry out industrially relevant functions.

Organoids, Not Chimeras

With several scientists working towards creating human-animal hybrids for the purpose of growing human organs for transplantation, a prominent biologist and bioethicist recommend pursuing the more-rigorously tested and less-ethically fraught approach of developing in vitro organoids for use in the clinic. At the time this opinion piece was originally published, news had just broken that an international team of researchers had created human-monkey chimeras as hosts for human organs. Four months later, researchers reported in Protein & Cell that they’d created a pig-monkey hybrid, a development that would bring science and medicine “one step closer to producing tissue-specific functional cells and organs in a large animal model,” according to the authors of the study.

Dancing Cells

This story details an exciting new method for characterizing cellular interactions using a blast of sound to sort cells that are free to get up and move from those that are stuck fast to a substrate. The aptly named single-cell acoustic force spectroscopy (scAFS) is more powerful, higher throughput, and less expensive than atomic force microscopy, a widely used tool to measure such cellular dynamics.

Make Room for Milk

Every so often, scientific papers shift long-standing thinking on a physiological process. In this case, research done in mice showed that fat cells in mammary tissue lose their lipids and reprogram themselves into stem cells during lactation, then fill up again with lipids and return to functioning as adipocytes after pups wean. These findings contribute to a well-worn debate about the fate of adipocytes during the cycle of lactation.

January/February 2020

A Light in the Dark

Unpacking the Complex Neurobiology of Suicide

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