Marcella Faria, Dactyl 2017 visiting researcher, publishes on bio-poetics

Over the course of 2017, Marcella Faria has been working at Dactyl Foundation as a visiting researcher in art-science topics. We are pleased to announce the publication of her article, “Aggregating, Polarizing, Networking – The Evolution of Cell Adhesion Codes” in BioSystems.

This research explores how complex multi-cellular life began simply by cells being able to stick together, with one side facing the extracellular world and the other sides facing cell neighbors. The particular ways they stuck together enabled the individual cells to move in relation to one another, communicate with each other, and differentiate from one another. Remarkably, as Faria points out, only three classes of interconnected molecules are needed for these intelligent functions to emerge: Extracellular Matrix components (ECMs), the adaptable stuff and/or spaces in between the cells through which signals can diffuse and cells can move; Cell Adhesion Molecules (CAMs), the various adaptable receptors that pierce the cell membrane and act as mediators between the outside and inside worlds; and dynamic cytoskeleton microfilaments that tether cells together. Changes in each of the three components can have consequences to the other two, which means that there is no strict one-to-one relationship between signals and their meanings. In short, there is a very simple basis for all the incalculably complex interactions of living forms.

The full paper is available here.

Louise Bourgeouis sculptures illustrating aggregating, polarizing, and networking.

During her time at Dactyl Foundation Dr. Faria also spoke at two conferences on related topics “The Time of the Living – On the Poetics of Recognition” and “The Poetics of Cell Attachment.” See full abstracts below.

“The Time of the Living – On the Poetics of Recognition”
Society for Literature, Science and the Arts annual meeting
Tempe, Arizona, USA. 9-12 November 2017

Living systems – either real or fictional – display a precise sense of time. In processes as diverse as, the evolution of species; the development of embryos; the growth of cells; and the journey of literary heroes, time acts as a differentiation agent. It generates specificity, discriminatory competencies, patterns. At the same time, living things, as historic as they might be, will always be immersed in the present of a mutable landscape. Boundary conditions, i.e. the constraints imposed on a system on its edges, are always changing. Living beings must continuously adapt to contingent resources inside their history, crafting narratives.

In our view, this ability to build narratives, as a distinctive feature reuniting biology and literature, emerges by a poetic use of material resources. What we shall illustrate by a brief discussion of two theoretical frameworks:

1) The Sciences of Recognition, as postulated by the neuroscientist Gerald Edelman in 2004;

2) The Theory of Poetic Action, as proposed by Paul Valéry in the late 1930s’
Edelman claims that in evolution, embryology, immunology and neurobiology, a precise setting of biological rules emerges by selection acting over time on variable populations of molecules, cells, and organisms. These two notions, i.e. variation and selection, are at work at all levels in each scenario. We will translate Edelman’s principles of recognition in terms of Valéry’s theory of poetic action.

“The Poetics of Cell attachment”
Code Biology annual meeting
Kőszeg, Hungary. 22-26 May 2017

Cell-matrix adhesion complexes (CMACs) are responsible for cellular attachment to the extracellular matrix (ECM), they are mainly composed by integrins, α/β heterodimers that bind selectively different ECM components through their extracellular domains acting as receptors. Upon ECM binding the cytoplasmic tails of integrins will interact with a wide range of recruited factors that regulate integrin clustering in the cell membrane; and also activate signaling pathways that will provide a physical linkage between activated integrins and the microfilament system to be remodeled during cell migration. Ultimately CMACs work as functional protein networks controlling cell migration through the continual rearrangement of both ECM adhesion, and Actin polymerization. In the present work we shall examine some attempts to conceptualize “cell migration” in the recent specialized literature; they introduce the notions of hierarchic organization into levels i.e. molecular, sub-cellular and cellular and describe an informational flow of increasing complexity versus decreasing number of entities, between these levels. We shall discuss the particular example of endothelial cells engagement into angiogenesis (the making of new blood vessels in adult vertebrates), an activity that requires intense CMACs’ remodeling, to argue that cell migration is also organized into semiotic dimensions. Beyond the syntactic level – illustrated in that case as the specific recognition of discrete ECM motifs by integrin heterodimers – we shall reach the semantic and pragmatic levels by bringing into light the dynamics of some “word games”, e.g. Lewis Carroll’s doublets; and magic squares. In such poetic games the synthetic transformations subjected by the words have to deal with semantic rules, but are ultimately dictated by meaning, as concrete pragmatic constrains. We postulate that figures of language and structural features which are characteristic of poetic writing have direct correlates in the cell/cell and cell/matrix recognition processes.