May 24 (UPI) -- Living cells are wired like computer chips, using direct signals to instruct them how to function, but they can also change behavior rapidly -- something chips can't do, new research by the University of Edinburgh suggests.
The cell-wide web discovery deepens scientists' understanding of how instructions spread through the body. The new research found information is carried across a web of guide wires that transmit signals across tiny, nanoscale distances. The movement of charged molecules across the tiny distances that transmit information, similar to how a computer microprocessor works.
"We found that cell function is coordinated by a network of nanotubes, similar to the carbon nanotubes you find in a computer microprocessor," said Professor Mark Evans, of the University of Edinburgh's Center for Discovery Brain Sciences.
"The most striking thing is that this circuit is highly flexible, as this cell-wide web can rapidly reconfigure to deliver different outputs in a manner determined by the information received by and related from the nucleus. This is something no man-made microprocessor or circuit boards are yet capable of achieving," Evans said.
Using high-powered microscopes, scientists were able to observe the wiring network with the help of computing techniques similar to those that allowed astronomers to view a black hole.
These signals tell a muscle cell to relax or contract, for example. When a cell moves from a steady state into a growth phase, the web is reconfigured to transmit signals that switch on the genes need for growth.