“A mad orgy of fusion”* 1


As gross as it may be, many of us have a hard time not picking a scab. We get a wound, it bleeds, and then seemingly like magic, it closes up and an oft irresistible crusty protective cap forms. With this, you’re familiar, but you probably haven’t given much thought to what happens when an individual cell gets a wound.

But UW-Madison’s Bill Bement has, and his work studying cellular wound healing recently caught the attention of Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, who wrote about the zoology professor on his blog and shared a video the Bement lab made for the American Society of Cell Biology’s Celldance competition.

“In the very small world of biology research videos, a rave review from Francis Collins is like winning an Oscar or several Oscars,” one representative of ASCB recently said of the post.

[Video from http://ascb.org/celldance-2014/, narrated by Bill Bement. Where else can you watch a “mad orgy of fusion.”]

Collins’ post:


Bill Bement describes himself as a guy who “passionately, obsessively, and almost feverishly” loves to study cells. His excitement comes through in our final installment of the American Society for Cell Biology’s Celldance 2014. Bement, an NIH grantee at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, shares his scanning confocal microscope with us for this fascinating glimpse into the rapid response of cells to repair holes, tears, and other structural damage in their protective outer membranes.

For most people, this damage response runs on biochemical autopilot, sealing any membrane break within seconds to keep the cell viable and healthy. But some people inherit gene mutations that make sealing and patching difficult, particularly in cells that operate under repetitive mechanical stress. For example, some forms of muscular dystrophy stem specifically from an inherited inability to repair breaks in the cell membrane of skeletal muscle cells. In one type of disease that affects both skeletal and cardiac muscle, a gene mutation alters the shape of a protein called dysferlin, which normally binds annexin proteins that, as noted in the video, play a vital role in patching holes. In the presence of a glitch in dysferlin, the rapid chain of biochemical events needed to enable such repair breaks down.

There’s still an enormous amount to learn about cell membrane repair, so it will be interesting to see what Bement’s microscope and camera will show us next.


Bill Bement dressed like an "outlaw," eating a leg

Bill Bement as outlaw, for the annual Bement lab Spirit Week

Why study cellular wound healing? As Bement and Collins point out, the process is crucially important for people with diseases like muscular dystrophy, and it could have implications for other areas of human health, like aging. Studying wound healing in cells allows researchers to observe how their parts interact, providing insight into the biology underlying a whole host of other processes. It also tells scientists like Bement A LOT about cells and how they work. Unexpected and interesting things. And it lends itself nicely to really cool movies, as you see here.

Learn more about Bill Bement by reading this question and answer he did with Current Biology. He’s a fascinating guy, really, and knows how to make science more fun than it is already.

*You have to watch the video to understand the reference


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