Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Crowd Surfing

Insight into how throngs of molecules behave

07 October 2019

Crowd Surfing

Our cells are crammed with life – jostling crowds of macromolecules, like these proteins and lipids vying for space in a computer model of a bacterial cell. With each having a purpose and a place to be, the situation looks chaotic, but new experiments suggest crowding actually helps certain particles travel faster. Researchers piped molecules of different sizes and textures into a microfluidic device designed to mimic real-life microscopic crowds. They discovered that squishy ones, more closely resembling particles in found living cells, squeeze between 'crowder' molecules, moving from crowded areas to where there's space. Such concentration gradients are essential to help traffic into and out from cells, and now it seems inside them too. The next step is to find ways to control crowds inside cells, revealing new ways to guide the flow of macromolecules in health and disease.

Written by John Ankers

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