The body’s tiny cargo carriers


From Knowable Magazine by Amber Dance

Scientists are finding that microscopic membranous bubbles called extracellular vesicles transmit messages from cells and do big jobs in many areas of biology — plus they might be useful for therapies.

Call it the body’s postal system. Cells package goodies into little envelopes made of membranes. Then these packages cruise the bloodstream — billions of them in every milliliter of blood — to recipient cells far and near, delivering freight such as genetic material and proteins.

These little bubbles, known as extracellular vesicles, or EVs, tell the receiving cell to change its biology, with far-reaching consequences, potentially influencing how we learn, the timing of childbirth, where diseases like cancer spread to, and more.

Scientists first caught a glimpse of EVs in the 1940s, and when researchers studied them in more detail in the 1980s, they thought they were looking at mundane cellular trash bags. Then, a couple of decades later, a team of interdisciplinary researchers discovered that tumors send EVs to distant tissues, laying the groundwork for cancer to take hold in new places. Today, scientists are finding that the messages EVs deliver are important in multiple sites around the human body, both in health and sickness. Cells of animals and plants, protozoans and fungi, and even bacteria release EVs, mailing their messages to other organs or other creatures they’re interacting with.

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