Community Effect

Learned about an interesting thing in a developmental biology seminar today called the ‘Community Effect’. If you transplant a very small group of cells into a foreign, non-self environment, the cells will lose their identity and assume one identical to that of the surrounding cells. However, if the group of cells that you transplant is large, then they’ll retain their identity.

This is a relatively new finding that has no definitive answers yet – some people suggest that diffusable signalling molecules might be implicated for this, or maybe cell-to-cell surface molecule interactions. Maybe it’s something else. The point is, it has interesting implications for the spread of cancer in mammals, and also metastases, where a blob of cancerous cells detaches from its original site to float around the bloodstream and establish itself somewhere else.

In these days of woefully misused biological metaphors for the Internet, the community effect may create some interesting insights on how communities composed of individuals, not cells, might operate in different online environments.


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