Curiosity and Ambiguity in Science


Life is full of unknown things

It is no surprise that we are yet to know many things about human life. The most studied model systems (cells, organisms) have many unknown aspects to science.

The most common element I observe in science is ambiguity. Not many things in science are black and white. 

I want to bring a few exciting aspects that touch on curiosity and the grey zone in science.

Bacterial Nanotubes:

It sounds fascinating and very clear from the heading that there are nanotubes formed from bacteria. These nanotubes made up of lipids are different from already well-known protein structures like sex pilli (Conjugative Pili), Injectisomes, and flagella. 

Imagine bacteria playing with a nano tube like a string phone to communicate about antibiotic resistance factors and toxins with their friends. Bacteria are sometimes very empathetic that it even shares with other species using the nanotubes. 

 Ben-Yehuda observed first in B.Subtilis where a green fluorescence moved from one bacteria to other. Initially, they thought it is a bleaching effect but later followed the same in a battery of tests and confirmed a cytoplasmic exchange between bacteria. 

But these are not easily seen and observed – they are finicky and need utmost care to capture them. For example, Pospíšil – researchers from the Czech Academy of Sciences saw bacteria moving, so to immobilize them, he pressed the coverslip and saw nanotubes bursting out from bacteria.

Researchers are excited to explore the unanswered questions of these bacterial nanotubes – so am I.


Bacterial nanotubes

Neutrophil Extracellular Trap

  • Squid squirting the ink to escape from a predator
  • Spider uses the web to make the prey immobile
  • Fisherman traping the fish within the fishing net 

The above aspects are not new to human physiology. The neutrophils release a mesh containing proteins and DNA to trap and neutralize bacteria. The mesh, now called neutrophil extracellular traps, can work against other pathogens like fungi and viruses. 

There is some chain of events that happens when neutrophil encounters the bacteria or pathogen. First, the enzyme complex NADPH oxidase generates reactive oxygen species to disintegrate the granules to release Neutrophil elastase (NE). Next, NE gets into the nucleus to expand the chromatin until it grows the entire cell then the cells pop out to eject NET into space.

The elements within NET has antibacterial effects – it also includes Histones, which are never known to neutralize pathogens. The components within NET called alarmins to bring in the devil side – by activating the pro-inflammatory pathways. 

NET-induced pro-inflammatory pathways have a role in various indications like cancer, malaria, thrombosis, and lupus. However, there are several ambiguous factors, need to be elucidated. Mainly, what are multiple pathways involved in secreting the NET, where does the engulfing of bacteria occurs, and how common is it using the chromatin for defense in the evolution history?

Neutrophil extracellular trap

Fusion of Immune and tumor cells

Cancer therapy is largely successful if tumor growth is limited to a specific organ. However, often the metastasis gives more complications escaping the treatment in the form of drug resistance.

There may be various reasons for metastasis, but one fascinating pathway is integrating tumor cells with immune cells. We have seen the integration concepts mostly in fertilization or, more famously, the creation of dolly (fusing the somatic nucleus in enucleated oocyte). 

The fusion of tumor and immune cells was observed in a patient of a 70 years woman who had received a bone marrow transplant from an anonymous male for treatment of chronic myelomonocytic leukemia. Recently, she has developed metastatic melanoma, and the fusion is easily traced since the immune cell’s DNA is from the donor while the cancer cell DNA is from the patient. 

To confirm the fusion, the scientists measure the proportion of patient DNA and donor DNA at every stage in the metastatic journey (primary site, axillary lymph node, and the brain). The patient’s DNA was more than donors at a primary site – approximately 10 percent are hybrid. While in the lymph node and brain, the ratio is 1:1, indicating all the cells are hybrid. This has proven that after fusion, the cancer cells metastasized into the brain. 

Tumors sometimes camouflage like other cells and can perform things as any other cells do. This study opinioned that treating the fusion could help in solving the metastasis. But researcher’s opinions that how many cancer types need fusion for metastasis? Is it specific to a few? What are the circumstances which lead to the fusion?

Fusion of tumor and immune cells