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Computing Systems

On the Move
Alison Davis
Posted April 2007

Like us, cells rely on transportation to do their daily activities. But while we can choose to take cars, busses, bikes and even Segways®, cells take the pedestrian approach: They move themselves.

This image, taken with a microscope-camera, shows the intricate network of fibers that builds a cell's structure. These fibers are called microtubules (yellow) and actin filaments (blue). Credit: Clare Waterman-Storer
This image, taken with a microscope-camera, shows the intricate network of fibers that builds a cell's structure. These fibers are called microtubules (yellow) and actin filaments (blue).
Credit: Clare Waterman-Storer

A cell moves by grabbing onto something, like the wall of a blood vessel, and then pulling itself forward. This mobility is an essential part of wound healing. When you cut yourself, your white blood cells speed to the wound like paramedics.

But cellular movement can also cause health problems, like when cancer cells spread to other parts of the body.

Scientists want to understand how cells move so they can develop new drugs that can rev up or stop cell migration altogether. But like most biological processes, cell movement hasn't been easy to figure out because it involves hundreds of proteins.

Cell biologist Clare Waterman-Storer at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, takes a systems biology approach to studying cell movement. She uses mathematical equations and computer software to piece together the various components that make cells motor along.

Learn about related research

This page last reviewed on April 22, 2011