These squashy shapes are nuclei – the tiny command centres found in many of our cells. There’s no important DNA inside these ones though, which is a huge relief, as they are being crushed. Researchers used a mathematical model to push these 'virtual' nuclei to destruction, examining how increasing environmental pressure (from left to right) crumples and deforms nuclear envelopes of different thicknesses (top to bottom). The team believe that as cells move about turbulent forces bear down on the nuclei inside. This can cause what mathematicians call a bifurcation – an unexpected dramatic change – in this case at the point where even the thickest cell starts to buckle under pressure. How the shape of the nucleus affects the delicate genetic machinery inside is a key question, and one which might reveal how cells handle so many pressures when making life or death decisions.
Written by John Ankers
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