Cells with and without cilia produced in the lab from stem cells reveal the functional importance of these hair-like structures
Almost all animal cells have at least one cilium – a hair-like, membrane-bound organelle that protrudes from the cell surface. It may be singular and immotile, or form part of a large group of cilia that move rhythmically together, such as those on respiratory tract cells that help keep mucus moving. Despite how commonplace cilia are, their functions in many cells remain a mystery, which limits scientists’ understanding of ciliopathies – diseases in which cilia fail to grow or work properly causing severe and life-long symptoms. To figure out cilia’s various roles, scientists have now engineered human stem cells that entirely lack cilia (left). Comparing these cells with normal cilia-possessing cells (right, cilia coloured red) as the two are directed to become whichever cell type the researchers choose, should reveal how specific cell types are affected by cilia loss and potentially guide new ciliopathy treatments.
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