This observation, made through a simple tool only five miles from Prakash’s lab, has now led him and colleagues to the discovery of a new form of communication between cells, which they detail in a paper published July 10 in Nature.
“There are many different ways of communication in biology but this is really a new kind of signaling between cells that we’re trying to understand,” said Arnold Mathijssen, a postdoctoral scholar in the Prakash lab and lead author of the paper.
The Prakash lab gathers wild samples of various tiny organisms from an area they call Peggy’s Bench – so named for a nearby memorial bench – and they’ve been coming here for years, often a couple times a week.
The researchers solved this mystery by applying insights from separate research being conducted by Deepak Krishnamurthy, another graduate student in the Prakash lab, on how an individual cell can sense the movement of water around it.
Mathijssen figured out what triggers the first cell to contract through an experiment that Prakash and Krishnamurthy had already built for Krishnamurthy’s research.
The Prakash lab and Bhamla lab continue to work on S. ambiguum to learn more about how, when and why these cells contract.
As part of this research and other work, the Prakash lab has been regularly returning to Peggy’s Bench.