[Researcher of the Month] Internal Level Interaction Between the Cell and Sensory Organs
Using fruit flies to pave the road
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The minute you leave out a banana on your desk, fruit flies start to appear out of nowhere. Even when you think you have taken good care of the peel, the little creatures never fail to sniff out its location. While one may think they are simply annoying pests, professor Shim Ji-won (Department of Life Science) uses them as her main test subject for her studies.
Shim recently published her study under the title of “Systemic Control of Immune Cell Development by Integrated Carbon Dioxide and Hypoxia Chemosensation in Drosophila.” Although the title itself may sound complicated, it is based on quite an interesting theory that the hypoxia-sensing neurons (hypoxia: oxygen deficiency in a biotic environment) that detect the level of CO2 and oxygen have a direct influence on the number of expanding blood cells. Shim’s findings indicate the link between environmental gas sensation and myeloid (relating to bone marrow / spinal cord) cell development in Drosophila, which in other words are--fruit flies. According to Shim, a similar relationship exists in humans, but the underlying mechanisms have yet to be established as the human anatomy is way too complex to see the direct interaction between the nerve and the immune system.
Before divng into the details of the research, a bit of human anatomy is in order. Blood cells are created in the spinal cord and bone marrow, which also decide each cell’s function after receiving various signals from the brain through the nerve system. Functional cells are created according to the body’s state, fulfilling whatever is needed. This includes immune cells, which are created in response to something in the body that is not balanced or is under stress due to internal or external factors. Within the sensory organs, there also exists various receptors (organs or cells which are able to respond to light, heat, or other external stimuli and transmit a signal to a sensory nerve) that can each sense different things. Each of them would send signals to our nerve system which would then send signals to our spinal cord that creates the functional cells.
Regarding this matter, numerous studies on cell interaction with the external environment have already been conducted. The brain to blood cell interaction was an area that many researchers have researched, but there were not many done on the internal interactions such as from cell to cell interaction and its influence on the brain. In this sense, Shim’s study was revolutionary.
Shim conducted her experiments by first creating mutated flies that did not have certain receptors. As a result, the ones without receptors that could sense CO2 showed drastic results. Because CO2 and oxygen are the two main conditions to human existence, the balance between the two is crucial. When the balance between the two levels breaks, as can be seen in the test results, it causes an internal change such as the increase in the number of cell expansion and immune reaction. This was quite revolutionary, as it meant that even without the brain’s direct order, the human body starts to create more functional blood cells as a response when the nerve system detects an imbalance in the CO2 and oxygen levels.
“For humans, the nerve system is inside our body and is linked with so many different receptors, so it is too complex to research right away. However, for fruit flies, their nerve system also exists on the exterior, so that they are very much sensitive to external conditions. Also, it is easier to control it as I can simply get rid of a few receptors, and that could shut down one of their sensory organs. Now the interesting thing is, when we release high levels of CO2 near the fruit flies, they fly as far away as they can. Here I suspected that there must be a correlation between the sensory organs and the immune system which keeps the body in check, so I used fruit flies to test out this theory,” said Shim.
Currently, various experiments are being carried out by Shim and her students relating to this study. The studies include a blood brain barrier interaction, a brain to blood interaction, a bi-directional interaction, and so on. Shim hopes that the studies conducted on the fruit flies will pave the road. “Our sensory organs and the nerve system greatly affect and are affected by the brain. For example, those with Alzheimer's cannot really smell things. This is because there is a neuro degeneration and incongruity in the immune system. We do not know how directly related the functions of the olfactory nerve and the brain are associated, but that is another research study to be done in the future after the fruit flies experiment,” said Shim.
Park Joo-hyun email@example.com
Photos by Kang Cho-hyun
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