We have been taught that everything in our body is connected to one another and that they interact to maintain the normal functioning of the different organs and systems within us.
But the extent to which these conversations among cells occurs is something into which we only recently took a serious look.
Nobody paid much attention to Jean Vance 30 years ago, when she discovered something fundamental about the building blocks inside cells. She even doubted herself, at first.
In a 1990 paper, Vance showed that the meeting points between the ER and mitochondria were crucibles for the synthesis of lipids. By bringing the two organelles together, these junctions could serve as portals for the transfer of newly made fats.
However, when she presented her findings to her contemporaries, they were skeptical.
Not any more. Close to three decades later, Vance’s paper is seen as a landmark — one that has come to transform scientists’ understanding of how cells maintain order and function in their crowded interiors, which buzz with various types of organelles, including mitochondria, nuclei and the ER.
Researchers now recognize that interactions between organelles are ubiquitous, with almost every type coming into close conversation with every other type. Probing those connections is also leading biologists to discover proteins that are responsible for holding the organelles together and maintaining a healthy cell.
(Image credit: Serge Block/Nature)