Cells 'walk' on liquids a bit like geckos

February 14, 2018, Queen Mary, University of London
Protein nanosheet assembly displaying strong mechanical properties allow cell adhesion and proliferation at the surface of liquids. Credit: Julien Gautrot

Researchers at Queen Mary University of London have discovered that cells can 'walk' on liquids a bit like the way geckos stick to other surfaces.

Cells are typically grown on solid materials, such as tissue culture plastic, degradable polymers and bioceramics. It is thought that the strong mechanical properties of these biomaterials are required to allow , an important process often controlling the behaviour of and promoting implant incorporation by surrounding tissues and tissue regeneration.

In this study, published in Nano Letters, the researchers report the successful growth of skin cells at the surface of liquid oil droplets.

This is surprising as the low viscosity of liquids is not thought to support the mechanical forces generated by cells during their adhesion.

The research team discovered that protein nanosheets, films only a few nanometres thick, assemble at the surface of such liquids and display strong mechanical properties sufficient to resist cell-generated forces.

By combining different types of mechanical characterisation methods at the nanoscale, they propose that cell adhesion to such liquids is not mediated by surface tension, as in the case of the walking of water striders, but more akin to the adhesion of geckos to a wide range of surfaces, in which shear forces play an important role.

Cells 'walk' on liquids a bit like geckos
Epidermal cell colonies grown on liquids (left) and tissue culture plastic classically used for cell culture (right). Credit: Julien Gautrot

Lead author Dr Julien Gautrot, from Queen Mary's School of Engineering and Materials Science, said: "Understanding the mechanisms responsible for this behaviour is important as it suggests that the nanoscale properties, rather than their bulk properties, controls cell and potentially other cell behaviour. This will have important implications for the design of a of biomaterials for regenerative medicine and tissue engineering."

He added: "This means that of biomaterials or tissue engineering scaffolds can be engineered independently of bulk properties to control cell phenotype and scaffold mechanics separately."

Liquid-liquid systems, such as emulsions like a vinaigrette, are particularly advantageous to a wide range of processing and technologies. They are often used in chemical synthesis and chemical engineering where they have revolutionised industrial processes. In contrast, cell culture and stem cell technologies have not benefitted from the flexibility of liquid-liquid systems.

The team suggest the study could lead to the design of a new generation of cell technologies, for the improved production of adherent stem for .

Explore further: Stem cells are a soft touch for nano-engineered biomaterials

More information: Dexu Kong et al, Protein Nanosheet Mechanics Controls Cell Adhesion and Expansion on Low-Viscosity Liquids, Nano Letters (2018). DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.7b05339

Related Stories

Stem cells are a soft touch for nano-engineered biomaterials

June 9, 2014

Scientists from Queen Mary University of London have shown that stem cell behaviour can be modified by manipulating the nanoscale properties of the material they are grown on - improving the potential of regenerative medicine ...

A step toward repairing the central nervous system

January 29, 2013

Despite recent advances in understanding the mechanisms of nerve injury, tissue-engineering solutions for repairing damage in the central nervous system (CNS) remain elusive, owing to the crucial and complex role played by ...

Research Reveals How Materials Direct Cell Response

April 18, 2005

New Georgia Tech research indicates how cells “sense” differences in biomaterial surface chemistry. The findings explain how biomaterials influence cells and could be used to develop new classes of materials to improve ...

Recommended for you

Atomic-scale ping-pong

June 20, 2018

New experiments by researchers at the National Graphene Institute at the University of Manchester have shed more light on the gas flow through tiny, angstrom-sized channels with atomically flat walls.

Chameleon-inspired nanolaser changes colors

June 20, 2018

As a chameleon shifts its color from turquoise to pink to orange to green, nature's design principles are at play. Complex nano-mechanics are quietly and effortlessly working to camouflage the lizard's skin to match its environment.

Method could help boost large scale production of graphene

June 19, 2018

The measure by which any conductor is judged is how easily, and speedily, electrons can move through it. On this point, graphene is one of the most promising materials for a breathtaking array of applications. However, its ...

0 comments

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.