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Better sensing through empty receptors

New model suggests cells may be more sensitive to their environment than previously thought

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4:04pm, September 25, 2009

Cells may benefit by paying attention to sensors that are still open for business.

A new model finds that, contrary to conventional wisdom, sensors on the outside of a cell that have not yet detected a chemical signal may be more useful than those that have already detected the signal, a study set to appear in Physical Review Letters suggests. By reconsidering how a cell sorts information, Ned Wingreen of Princeton University and Robert Endres of Imperial College London found that these unbound sensors can collectively provide a clearer view of the environment.

Single-celled organisms, such as bacteria and yeast, must accurately judge their landscape to find food and avoid trouble. Cells sense their surroundings through small proteins called receptors that coat the outer cell membrane. When a receptor grabs on to a particular molecule, like a sugar or an amino acid, the receptor can spur the cell to move toward or away from those molecules, a process called
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