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Distinct cell shapes determine accurate chemotaxis

Robert Endres, Faculty of Natural Sciences, Imperial College London

Date:  June 29, 2012   15:30 

Place: Kleiner Physik-Hörsaal, Geschwister-Scholl-Platz

The behaviour of an organism often reflects a strategy for coping with its environment. Such behaviour in higher organisms can often be reduced to a few stereotyped modes of movement due to physiological limitations, but finding such modes in amoeboid cells is more difficult as they lack these constraints. Here, we examine cell shape and movement in starved Dictyostelium discoideum amoebae during migration toward a chemoattractant. We show that the incredible variety in amoeboid shape across a population can be reduced to a few modes of variation. Interestingly, cells use distinct modes depending on the applied chemical gradient, with specific cell shapes associated with shallow, difficult-to-sense gradients. Modelling reveals that these behaviours are a strategy for accurate sensing at the physical limit. Since similar behaviours are observed in a diverse range of cell types, we propose that cell shape and behaviour are conserved traits.