What does a cell look like in the throes of death? A miniature explosion.
Molecular biologists from La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia have observed white blood cells dying using time-lapse microscopy, as they report in the scientific journal Nature Communications.
Cell death is a regular occurrence in human tissues. (Think of how often you shed dead skin.) When cells undergo this apoptosis, or programmed cell death, the cells don’t just keel over. They eject molecules in the shape of beaded strings that can still be used by the body’s immune system. These beaded strings that come from the fragmenting cell can be up to eight times longer than the original host cell, and contain proteins vital to cell growth, maintenance, signal transfer, and more. Watch:
Those squiggles that appear just outside the cell at the bottom center of the video are called apoptotic bodies.
As the lead researcher, molecular biologist Ivan Poon, explains, “much like fighter jet pilots are ejected from their downed airplane, we have discovered certain molecules are pushed free from the dying cell, while others are left behind in the 'wreckage' of the cell fragments.”