Posts Tagged ‘apoptosis’

Cells have many ways to live, only a couple of ways to die

12 Jul

Robert Horvitz's Nobel Prize came largely for his work in turning a small, transparent worm that lives in the dirt into an experimental system that has won several others Nobel Prizes since. But his pioneering use of C. elegans came about because he was interested in a problem that was simply easier to address in the animal: how and when cells in an organism choose to die through a process called apoptosis. It was his research in this field that was the focus of his talk at the Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting.

You might not be aware of it, but many of an animal's cells kill themselves for the greater good of the organism they're part of. In adults, cells with a viral infection or extensive DNA damage (or immune cells that react to the body itself) are induced to commit an organized suicide, slicing up their DNA into short fragments and packaging up their membranes and proteins for easy digestion by their neighbors. The process also takes place during development: we all have webbing between our digits in utero that's gone by birth, and millions of apparently healthy neurons die off to form the adult brain.

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