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Uncovering Cilia’s Secrets

Cells with and without cilia produced in the lab from stem cells reveal the functional importance of these hair-like structures

21 May 2022

Uncovering Cilia’s Secrets

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.

Written by Ruth Williams

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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