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Virtual cell: destructive and creative processes equally important for cell regulation

(Vienna, 2nd June 2012) Using a virtual cell model on the computer, researchers at the MedUni Vienna have demonstrated that destructive processes that break down the molecules that are actively involved in regulatory control loops are just as important in cells as the processes that synthesise them.

Rudolf Handel and his colleagues from the Institute of the Science of Complex Systems also demonstrated, through model experiments, that molecular decay rates and the "molecular toolkit" used in cells are closely linked to each other. Even small changes in the decay rate of proteins can substantially alter the “molecular toolkit” of cells and therefore control the resulting cell type. Says Hanel: “The control of protein decay is a comparatively easy alternative for the cell when it comes to regulating its protein balance and influencing cell differentiation.”

The discovery of this mechanism in the model represents a key step towards controlling and managing cell differentiation. Says Hanel: “It allows cell differentiation to be controlled in as efficient a way as possible.” Cell differentiation is the term used in developmental biology to describe the development of cells or tissues from a less-specialised into a highly-specialised state. This is extremely important, for example in the development of multicellular organisms or for the maintenance of physical functions.

Since differentiated cells (cells that are produced from stem cells but which carry out different functions in multicellular organisms, such as muscle and skin cells) differ both in terms of their molecular decay rate and their "molecular toolkits", the virtual cell model demonstrates just how specifically protein decay can influence, for example, the process of cell differentiation.

Service: PLoS ONE

“A self-organized model for cell-differentiation based on variations of molecular decay rates”. R. Hanel, M. Pöchhacker, M. Schölling, S. Thurner. PLoS ONE 7(5): e36679. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036679.