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How immune cells 'sniff out' bacteria

Scientists are learning how our immune system senses and tracks down infection in the body by responding to chemical "scents" emitted by bacteria. Studying how immune cells manipulate their movement in response to external signals could shed light not only on how our immune system functions but also how cancer cells spread through the body and even how the brain wires itself.

Speaking at the Society for General Microbiology's spring meeting in Edinburgh, Dr Holger Kress describes a new technique pioneered by himself and Professor Eric Dufresne at Yale University in the US that uses sponge-like micro-particles to mimic bacteria.

The micro-particles slowly release a characteristic bacterial "scent" that is picked up by immune cells, causing them to actively move towards the source of the chemical in an attempt to hunt down the model microbes. These micro-particles can be trapped and manipulated three-dimensionally using 'optical tweezers' ā€“ highly focussed laser beams that are able to precisely control the movement of the particles to within a millionth of a millimetre. "By controlling the shape of the chemical signals, we were able to control the movements of immune cells and study how they respond to the signals," said Dr Kress.
 
 

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