From middle school biology we were always taught that the nucleus is the “control center” of the cell, similar to how the brain is the control center of our own bodies. At first glance this makes a lot of sense, considering the nucleus contains DNA — the genetic code of life — and a good amount of the machinery that is required to transcribe this code into the proteins that make up our being. Despite this seemingly intuitive role of the nucleus, a recent study conducted by the Prof. Jan Lammerding, biomedical engineering, and post-doctoral fellow Tyler Kirby, suggests the nucleus may also act as a “mechano-sensor” in the cell. A mechano-sensor is a component of the cell that responds to physical stimuli in the environment of the cell, such as touch, charge, or temperature. Previously the role of mechano-sensor was credited entirely to cell membrane proteins.
Have you ever thought about the functions of the thousands of genes inside our bodies? Scientists have been excited to answer this question ever since the Human Genome Project identified more than 20,000 genes, most of which were of unknown function. The past decade has witnessed a great explosion of knowledge about gene function and regulation. Most of this knowledge has come from studying model organisms, ranging from single-celled yeast to multi-whiskered mice. Since the fundamental biological processes are amazingly conserved across different species, studies from model organisms have taught us a lot about how our own bodies work and have led us to develop methods to treat diseases.