Chemotaxis is a process in which cells sense and move up or down chemical gradients. To learn more about the complex mechanisms behind chemotaxis, Monica Skoge at Princeton University, and colleagues decided to hold a worldwide competition.
Fourteen participating teams each engineered two chemotaxis models – the amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum (Dicty) and the human cell line HL60 – with the aim of enhancing their chemotactic ability. They then “raced” the cells through a millimeter-long microfluidic maze, up a chemical gradient to the finish line.
The above accelerated-speed video depicts the winning Dicty cells traversing the maze racecourse.
In the competition, HL60 cells were found to be more than twice as fast as Dicty cells, but Dicty cells were better at finding shortcuts, giving them a slightly enhanced combination of accuracy and speed. The most successful cells were an adapted version of Dicty with increased activity of a particular protein, Ric8, that enhanced G-protein signaling, aiding chemotaxis in shallow chemical gradients.
Impairment of chemotaxis in neutrophils, key human immune cells, puts patients at high risk of infection. Races like this one are a fun-spirited way to investigate chemotaxis and could help scientists develop new therapies to restore patient immunity.
Research Article: Skoge M, Wong E, Hamza B, Bae A, Martel J, Kataria R, et al. (2016) A Worldwide Competition to Compare the Speed and Chemotactic Accuracy of Neutrophil-Like Cells. PLoS ONE 11(6): e0154491. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0154491
Video Credit: S1 Movie from manuscript of winning Dicty cells from Team 12.