Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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03 November 2014

Follow that Chemical!

Like moths to a flame, cells find certain substances irresistible. Minute changes in the quantity of a chemical around them automatically cause these human cancer cells to move in the direction where the concentration is highest. This process, called chemotaxis, is central to everything from immune responses, wound healing and the spreading of cancer. The same action in reverse also helps cells to escape dangerous substances. In this instance, the chemical is most abundant where the pipette (triangular grey shape) is leaking into the surrounding fluid. But by manipulating the function of specific genes scientists can disrupt cells' abilities to detect concentrations and therefore move towards the centre. Uncovering the secrets of chemotaxis has clinical significance, by helping to limit the spread of infections, for example. And it also gives you an icebreaker for when you next meet a microbiologist. What are cells' favourite way to travel? Answer: By chemo-taxis.

Written by Jan Piotrowski

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