You might think that filling a tube with frog eggs and spinning that tube in a centrifuge to make those eggs explode would destroy any semblance of life.
But you would be mistaken.
When researchers at Stanford extracted the cytoplasm from that tube of cellular carnage, they were amazed that cell-like compartments gradually reformed.
"We were gobsmacked," said James Ferrell, PhD, a professor of chemical and systems biology at Stanford Medicine and senior author of a study published today in Science. "If you blend a computer, you'd end up with tiny bits of computer, and they wouldn't even be able to add two and two. But lo and behold, the cytoplasm reorganizes."
Not only that, the self-assembled compartments could behave like normal cells: they divided and formed smaller compartments. This study provides the first example of self-organization at the scale and complexity of entire cells.
The discovery relied on observations by lead author Xianrui Cheng, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar in the Ferrell Lab. While studying a molecular process known as programmed cell death, he noticed the nuclei in a tube of frog egg cytoplasm arranging into a regular pattern. When he looked at the cytoplasm on microscope slides, he was shocked to see compartments appearing before his eyes.
"If you take the cytoplasm of the frog egg -- note that the cytoplasm has been homogenized, so whatever spatial structure that was there has been completely disrupted -- and just let it sit at room temperature, it will reorganize itself and form small cell-like units. That's pretty amazing," Cheng said in a Stanford Medicine release.
Even more surprising was that these compartments could undergo division.
The researchers saw that these compartments could undergo over 25 rounds of division, indicating that the process was very robust. "You're taking the material from the egg, and it divides in a mode that's reminiscent of embryonic development," Cheng said. "Just like they're supposed to in a real egg."
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