3D images show us how fast and strong a single animal cell can be

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Cells are amazing self-contained, organic machines. They can also, when needed, grow "arms" that move them around and are extraordinarily strong. Now, scientists have used 3D modeling to determine just how much force a single cell can exert.

Cells generally grow within a larger matrix of other cells. There are tiny spaces between each cell, and your health depends on your cells being able to move around in those spaces to signal their neighbors about disease, incoming food, or input from the outside world. These tiny movements between cells ensure the proper growth of tissue, allow the migration of cells, trigger vital stem cell functions - and cause cancer to metastasize.

Considering its wide range of biological functions, understanding how these cell-generated forces operate is crucial to a complete understanding of how cells work together in an organism. But until now, scientists had only been able to measure the movements of these cells in two-dimensional cultures, robbing us of a full understanding of their movement.


That's now changed, thanks to work by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. They were able to model the full range of forces created by cellular movement in all three dimensions. They accomplished this by placing a cell culture in a specially prepared hydrogel matrix filled with fluorescent beads. As the cells moved through the matrix, they displaced the beads embedded in the gel, which allowed them to calculate the forces applied by different parts of the cell.


This is the first time researchers have captured such a complete view of what goes into a cell's movement, and further research showed the general applicability of their findings. Their work has also produced some amazing images, as you can see here.