Researchers demonstrated self-organizing ability of individual cells into multi-layered reminiscent of simple organisms, according to a new study published in May 2018.
The success of this experiment has the potential to be used as a method to heal damaged tissues and regrow ailing organs.
“What is amazing about biology is that DNA allows all the instructions required to build an elephant to be packed within a tiny embryo. DNA encodes an algorithm for growing the organism — a series of instructions that unfolds in time in a way we still don’t really understand. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the complexity of natural systems, so here we set out to understand the minimal set of rules for programming cells to self-assemble into multicellular structures.” said Wendell Lim, PhD and senior author of the study.
The biological structures of the cells are found communicating with one another, making collective decisions about how to structurally organize themselves. They developed a customizable synthetic signaling molecule called synNotch developed in Lim’s lab. This programed cells in a way that allows them to respond to specific cell-cell communication signals with bespoke genetic programs.
Cells produced cadherins and fluorescent marker proteins to respond to signals from neighboring cells. Remarkably, just a few simple forms of collective cell communication were sufficient to cause ensembles of cells to change color and self-organize into multi-layered structures akin to simple organisms or developing tissues.
The team programed the cells to adhere to more complex three-layered spheres. They thus were able to develop more complex structures, similar to how a single fertilized egg divides and differentiates to form different parts of the body and distinct tissues such as skin, muscle, nerve, and bones.