Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Biology meets geometry

31.10.2014

A UCSB biophysicist and deputy director of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics collaborates with colleagues to describe the geometry of a common cellular structure

Architecture imitates life, at least when it comes to those spiral ramps in multistory parking garages. Stacked and connecting parallel levels, the ramps are replications of helical structures found in a ubiquitous membrane structure in the cells of the body.


Artist's rendering of Terasaki spiral ramps, helices that connect stacks of evenly spaced sheets in the rough endoplasmic reticulum.

Credit: Jemal Guven

Dubbed Terasaki ramps after their discoverer, they reside in an organelle called the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), a network of membranes found throughout the cell and connected to and surrounding the cell nucleus. Now, a trio of scientists, including UC Santa Barbara biological physicist Greg Huber, describe ER geometry using the language of theoretical physics. Their findings appear in print and online in the Oct. 31 issue of Physical Review Letters.

"Our work hypothesizes how the particular shape of this organelle forms, based on the interactions between Terasaki ramps," said Huber, who is deputy director of UCSB's Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics. "A physicist would like to say there's a reason for the membrane's shape, that it's not just an accident. So by understanding better the physics responsible for the shape, one can start to think about other unsolved questions, including how its form relates to its function and, in the case of disease, to its dysfunction."

The rough ER consists of a number of more or less regular stacks of evenly spaced connected sheets, a structure that reflects its function as the shop floor of protein synthesis within a cell. Until recently, scientists assumed that the connections between adjacent sheets were like wormholes — that is, simple tubes.

Last year, however, it was discovered that these connections are formed by spiral ramps running up through the stack of sheets. According to lead author Jemal Guven of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, this came as a surprise because spiral geometries had never previously been observed in biological membranes.

Attached to the membrane, ribosomes, which serve as the primary site for protein synthesis, dot the ER like cars populating a densely packed parking structure. "The ribosomes have to be a certain distance apart because otherwise they can't synthesize proteins," Huber explained.

"So how do you get as many ribosomes per unit volume as possible but not have them bump up against each other?" Huber asked. "The cell seems to have solved that problem by folding surfaces into layers that are nearly parallel to each other and allow a high density of ribosomes."

Different parts of the ER have different shapes: a network of tubes, a sphere that bounds the nucleus or a set of parallel sheets like the levels of a parking garage. The smooth ER consists of a tubular network of membranes meeting at three-way junctions. These junctions are also the location of lipid (or membrane) synthesis. As new lipids are produced within the smooth ER, they accumulate in these junctions, eventually cleaving apart the tubes meeting there.

In the rough ER, the parallel surfaces or stacks are connected by Terasaki spiral ramps. In some cases, one ramp is left-handed and the other right-handed — the parking-garage geometry — which is what Terasaki and colleagues (including Huber) found last year.

"We propose that the essential building blocks within the stack are not individual spiral ramps but a 'parking garage' organized around two gently pitched ramps, one of which is the mirror image of the other — a dipole," said Guven, who was assisted in his research by one of his students, Dulce María Valencia. "This architecture minimizes energy and is consistent with the laminar structure of the stacks but is also stable."

In physics, these helical structures, which connect one layer of the ER with the next, are called defects. That word, Huber noted, carries no negative connotation in this context. "When you look at this through the eyes of physics, there are certain mechanisms that suggest themselves almost immediately," Huber said. "The edge of an ER sheet is a region of high curvature because the sheet turns around and bends. The bend is actually the thing that's forming the helix."

The bend creates a U shape that looks like half of a tube. Huber and his colleagues applied the principles of differential geometry to this curved membrane. Pulling the halves of a tube apart creates a flat region spanning the two U-shaped halves, which then become part of a sheet.

The geometrical idea is that one can actually get a sheet by pulling apart a network of tubes in a certain way," Huber explained. "Imagine that each of the U-shaped edges wants to bend, but when you try to connect those two U shapes together, each one is now bent. That's what the color figure is trying to show. A tube can generate a sheet if the edges come apart and they're allowed to bend in space."

According to Huber, this theoretical work provides a deeper story and richer vocabulary for discussing the shapes found in cell interiors. "One suspects that their shape is related to their function," he concluded. "In fact, scientists know that the shape of the ER can be an indicator of abnormal functions seen in certain diseases."

Julie Cohen | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ucsb.edu/

Further reports about: Biology connections function geometry physics protein synthesis ribosomes smooth structure structures surfaces tubes

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Supersensitive through quantum entanglement

28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy under real ambient pressure conditions

28.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Mice provide insight into genetics of autism spectrum disorders

28.06.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>