Understanding how cells follow electric fields

May 28, 2015, UC Davis
Understanding how cells follow electric fields

Many living things can respond to electric fields, either moving or using them to detect prey or enemies. Weak electric fields may be important growth and development, and in wound healing: it's known that one of the signals that guides cells into a wound to repair it is a disturbance in the normal electric field between tissues. This ability to move in response to an electric field is called galvanotaxis or electrotaxis.

UC Davis dermatology professor Min Zhao, Peter Devroetes at Johns Hopkins University and colleagues hope to unravel how these responses work, studying both body cells and Dictyostelium discoideum, an amoeba that lives in soil. Dictyostelium is unusual because it spends part of its life crawling around as a single-cell amoeba, but occasionally multiple amoebae will come together to form a fruiting body.

In a paper just published in the journal Science Signaling, Zhao and colleagues screened Dictyostelium for that affect electrotaxis. They used special barcoded microplates developed by Tingrui Pan, professor of biomedical engineering at UC Davis to screen hundreds of amoeba strains.

The team identified a number of genes, including one called PiaA, which encodes a critical component of a pathway controlling motility. Other genes associated with electrotaxis in Dictyostelium were also linked to the same pathway.

Right now, no one nows how cells detect these very weak electric fields, Zhao said. The screening technique could be used to identify more genes linked to electrotaxis and help researchers piece together exactly how electrical signals are detected and turned into action.

Min Zhao and Peter Devroetes talk about the work in this Science podcast

Explore further: Grant to study how cells sense electric fields

More information: A large-scale screen reveals genes that mediate electrotaxis in Dictyostelium discoideum, Sci. Signal., 26 May 2015. Vol. 8, Issue 378, p. ra50, DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.aab0562

Related Stories

Grant to study how cells sense electric fields

January 26, 2010

Learning how living cells can detect and respond to electric fields is the aim of a $570,000, three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to Min Zhao, professor of dermatology and ophthalmology at the UC Davis Health ...

Genes define the interaction of social amoeba and bacteria

May 9, 2013

Amoeba eat bacteria and other human pathogens, engulfing and destroying them – or being destroyed by them, but how these single-cell organisms distinguish and respond successfully to different bacterial classes has been ...

Cheating slime mold gets the upper hand

January 8, 2013

A 'cheater' mutation (chtB) in Dictyostelium discoideum, a free living slime mould able to co-operate as social organism when food is scarce, allows the cheater strain to exploit its social partner, finds a new study published ...

Recommended for you

Fish-inspired material changes color using nanocolumns

March 20, 2019

Inspired by the flashing colors of the neon tetra fish, researchers have developed a technique for changing the color of a material by manipulating the orientation of nanostructured columns in the material.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

TogetherinParis
not rated yet May 29, 2015
Moving a conductor, blood, through a magnetic field yields a current, sure, but moving through an electric field also affects van der Walls and ionic bonding. Electric fields release bound O2 from hemoglobin as it passes through because polar partial dipoles line up to the electric field lines. Thus extra oxygenation around such fields set up by simple magnets should help to counteract loss of circulation, up to a point.
gkam
1 / 5 (1) May 29, 2015
Yet, we continue to expose ourselves to more and more electromagnetic energy from all our devices and power and communications systems.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.