Posts Tagged ‘powering the cell’

When It Comes to Speaking Out, Cells Wait Their Turn

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 09-07-2011

Watching cells communicate: CHO cells in listening (red) and sending (green) modes

Cell communication is essential for the development of any organism. Scientists know that cells have the power to “talk” to one another, sending signals through their membranes in order to “discuss” what kind of cell they will ultimately become — whether a neuron or a hair, bone, or muscle. And because cells continuously multiply, it’s easy to imagine a cacophony of communication.

But according to Dr. David Sprinzak, a new faculty recruit of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, cells know when to transmit signals — and they know when it’s time to shut up and let other cells do the talking. In collaboration with a team of researchers at the California Institute of Technology, Dr. Sprinzak has discovered the mechanism that allows cells to switch from sender to receiver mode or vice versa, inhibiting their own signals while allowing them to receive information from other cells — controlling their development like a well-run business meeting.

Dr. Sprinzak’s breakthrough can lead to the development of cancer drugs that specifically target these transactions as needed, further inhibiting or encouraging the flow of information between cells and potentially stopping the uncontrollable proliferation of cancer cells. Dr. Sprinzak’s research appeared in the journal PLoS Computational Biology.

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Molecular Animation Gone Wild

 :: Posted by American Biotechnologist on 11-16-2010

XVIVO has done it again! The Connecticut-based scientific animation company that brought us the wildly popular animation The Inner Life of the Cell (see video at bottom of post) has recently released a new animation entitled Powering the Cell: Mitochondria. The video is a stunning display of graphical talent and an engaging way to help viewers visualize science at a molecular level.

News of XVIVOs latest triumph has received a lot of attention due to a well publicized article in today’s issue of the New York Times. Below is a short explanatory video that appeared in today’s NY Times online edition.

Browsing through the XVIVO website I noticed that there are several types of animations ranging from purely graphical animations with music (such as the Inner Life of the Cell and Powering the Cell) to animations that are accompanied by vocal explanations and have been produced for clients such as the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) or Zirus Antivirotics.

As a bench-based molecular biologist, I have a difficult time rating the usefulness of these videos for educational purposes. The Inner Life of the Cell was produced in conjunction with Harvard’s BioVisions scientific visualization program and I believe is being used as a teaching tool in molecular biology classrooms. Watching the video certainly helps give context to what can otherwise be an abstract concept for the uninitiated molecular biologist. It also involves a healthy dose of creativity on the part of the animators since what is being visualized actually occurs below the wavelength of light and therefore does not really have a visual representation. On the other hand, the lack of a vocal explanation in some of the videos may make it difficult for a students to identify molecular structures and to put events in context.

XVIVO also produces narrated animations such as the Life cycle of H1N1 influenza-A virus and the methodology used to find appropriate targets done for Zirus Antivirotics which is a visually pleasing video accompanied by an excellent explanation of onscreen events. These types of videos, while leaving little room for the imagination, seem to be a more superior teaching tool than videos that only have musical accompaniment.

What is your opinion of molecular animation? I would love to hear from other molecular biologists out there. Have you found molecular animation videos useful or do you feel that they rely too much on creativity rather than on cold, hard facts?