Yvonne Carts-Powell

Bungee of Death!

In Uncategorized on March 10, 2010 at 11:56 am

They had me almost at hello, but definitely by the time we got to “Immune cells use bungee of death to kill dangerous cells…” in the headline. One of the joys of being a science writer is the press releases that I get. Most are banal, but occasionally, something like this crosses my desk:

Immune cells ensnare dangerous cells that are on the run with a bungee-like nanotube, according to research published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study, by researchers from Imperial College London, shows that natural killer (NK) cells use this bungee to destroy cells that could otherwise escape them…

The researchers took video footage of the cells, showing the target cells moving away and being pulled back towards the NK cells. When a target cell moves away from an NK cell, it normally moves ‘head’ first, at around eight micrometres per minute. However, today’s research shows that when the NK cell pulls its target cell back using the nanotube bungee it moves much faster, at around 14 micrometres per minute, and the cell is pulled backwards.

Membrane nanotubes increase an NK cell’s chance of killing its target cell from a distance dramatically. In today’s study, NK cells killed their target cells from a distance in 12 out of 16 cases (75 per cent) if they were connected by a membrane nanotube, compared to four out of 18 (25 per cent) if the nanotube was cut.

The Imperial College website includes a video of the killer cells bungee-ing their prey.

If only Spore were more like reality. Where are the video games based on biology? The “Fantastic Voyage” games? The “balance the endocrine system” games? The parallels to “Civilization” where your body is humming along nicely until it’s attacked by flu!


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