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Sticky logic programs bacteria to form multicellular patterns
The engineering of cells to express synthetic adhesion molecules creates a simple logic for patterning cell populations with visible boundaries. The approach paves the way for smart living materials and programmable biosensors.
The emergence of multicellular organisms from individual cells probably occurred several times during evolution. These steps would have required the development of a certain type of ‘glue’, in the form of adhesion molecules (adhesins) that bind cells together, and that can recognize cells of the same type. Early adhesins would simply have detected like and unlike cells. But as they evolved, these molecules would have become capable of recognizing specialized cells in the organism that had distinct biological functions, and of spatially organizing tissues that had defined boundaries. Writing in Nature, Kim et al.1 report a way of using synthetic adhesins to form multicellular patterns that are visible to the naked eye — shedding light on the molecular mechanisms that might have driven the evolution of multicellular organisms.