Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Intelligent Cell

A couple of correspondents have pointed me toward the work of Guenter Albrecht-Buehler, whose research and ideas are summarized on a website entitled Cell Intelligence.

The website is organized in a table of contents. In approaching it, one finds some radical claims in the first section, and I was at first put off by this. On second look, I found it useful to proceed a bit backwards in assessing the information on the site, much of which I found intriguing.

Section 3 of the contents includes what would seem to be an important research finding, where he shows that cells (“3T3” cells, which I gather are from a mouse embryo) detect and react to microscopic infra-red light sources at a distance. References on the site show that these experiments (as well as other Albrecht-Bueller results) have been published in mainstream journals. I do not know whether other researchers have replicated them.

It is interesting to think about how a cell might utilize light alongside its use of chemical-mechanical processes. There is a section discussing a proposal that a structure called the centriole detects the light, and one discussing microtubules as possibly the transmission mechanism for relaying this signal within the cell (of course, this triggered a memory of the role microtubles played in the Penrose Hameroff quantum brain proposal!).

Crucial to Albrecht-Buehler’s overall thesis is that the cells themselves are light sources: he thinks they scatter ambient radiation in a patterned way, with this radiation then utilized as a signal input by its neighbors (including at some distance). He shows some research which seems to indicate this scattered light is used in organizing “social” behavior among a group of cells.

This idea ties back into section 2 of the site, where intriguing behavioral properties of cells are discussed. Albrecht-Beuhler says that the data indicate that signals, rather than mechanisms, are being utilized in individual and group behaviors, and that the cell must be processing information in order to manifest such behaviors.

This is the basis for asserting that cells are worthy of being considered intelligent in the way characterized in the opening summary and in section 1, which now make more sense.

So, is there signal processing going on in cells? Do cells control and direct their processes in a top-down way, rather than being built strictly from bottom-up chemical processes? Do they utilize electro-magnetic signals specifically? I’m in a poor position to judge all this (knowing even less about biology than about other topics I blog here about). But I’m intrigued, and will keep these proposals in mind as I read more going forward.


Anonymous said...


I am also one of the fans of Dr.Buehlers work and my current research interests are contrived around this fascinating area. Nice to see that it fascinates other people as much as it interests me.

Kind Regards,
Tarun @ NCHGSR

Steve said...

Thank you for commenting here. I wish you good luck in your work.
Best regards,
- Steve